Friday, November 4, 2016

When standing stones don't stay still

It is an unspoken truth in the Dordogne that its country dwelling places are biodegradable. This applies to farmhouses, the attendant barns, pig sheds and workers’ cottages. Obviously it is not true of chateaux, maisons de maître and the little shrines over springs and holy places. But it is true of the rest, hence, until very recently, any man who was a man had to be able to pop up on his roof and fix any leaks immediately.

there is actually a professional roofer up there somewhere

The original manner of construction began with a pile of chalk stones gathered from the fields. These were put into shallow channels anywhere between 40 cms and 50 cms wide. As they rose to become walls the outer sides were sealed with a form of mortar and the inner with mud.(We know this because we found rat carcasses inside our walls.) The corners, window and door frames were created and supported by solid chalk keystones.

The walls of the building were often not set equally deep into the ground, especially when the site was a slope. This would lead to an imperceptible pull on the walls – our house is 10 cm wider at roof level then at the ground leaning outwards on the downward slope.

To create the Shepherd’s Cottage inside the sheep barn we first had to dig out the beaten earth floor so that people could stand upright everywhere. The nearside (to our house) wall immediately started to collapse inside. An appalling noise ensued. Not to worry said the then mason cheerfully. He ‘propped up’ the ceiling beams with scaffolding and rebuilt the bottom of the wall. Then cement jointed all the stones.
But we have suddenly discovered a second weakness in our wonderful, hand-built, gobbed-up stone houses. The corner stones can also be fragile, they are after all only a form of highly compressed chalk. They don’t take kindly to any form of cement as witness our terrace stairs.

A few years ago, Edward Le Prince Noir de La Chaise, (labrador, see above) was terrified by a sudden clap of thunder. He had been comfortably hiding under the lunch table. Linked to the table by his ed scarf, he launched himself down the stairs and towards the woods – the table, a stone geranium pot and part of the balustrade and ramparts went with him. Last summer the tractor just touched the bottom pillar and pulled the whole of the other side over. We vaguely tried to get it repaired but stone experts signally failed to supply cement to stick the pieces together again. Too porous for cement they said.

This is what a bump from the tractor did....

Then, at the end of this past winter we discovered that either the nearside end of the sheep barn wall, or roof, had moved. This was visible because the joints between the plaster board ceilings and walls had cracked open. Visions of 12 metre long wrought iron ties hold the two barn ends together, or external pattes d’elephant - solid concrete triangles to prop the moving wall, haunted our dreams. Either solution would cause great difficulties for holiday makers as well as ourselves.

Fortunately the A² (Alex & Audrey) grapevine dug up a stone mason of their own generation who lived nearby. He was not impressed. Pointing to a corner stone half-way up the kitchen door frame he said: there is the problem. Indeed, this stone had a triangular wedge taken our where some beam had been wedged in, presumably to make a lean-to, long since gone. His solution?: to prop up the first floor along the length of the wall with scaffolding inside, remove the defective stone and slide in a new one. Simple really.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A little worry left behind.

As we started packing to leave La Chaise in the tender care of Audrey, Alexandre and Charlie, also Michelle,for a couple of winter months, we decided to have a final glass of wine on the terrace, watch the sunset, hopefully see some bats at dusk.

On my way through the dining room door to the terrace I saw THIS:

YES!    This is a slug, climbing up the electric wire towards the attic bedroom.

Now, if it is true that slugs seek out damp places to hide in dry times....I am worried.  The gardiens of La Chaise are on Slug Watch.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A summer without bees

The summer is drawing to a close - the pools have been covered with their winter baches, heavy dark blue plastic sheets tied with elastic tethers to heavy pegs in their surrounding tiles.  The daily temperature has dropped..

There are still few bees - I can count the ones I have seen on the fingers of one hand.  They were very small.   I have only seen one bumblebee and the only hornet was dead before I spotted it.

The unusually hot weather in the summer days meant we heard less bird-song and more tree crickets.   The birds are now back whilst we hear only the odd cricket in the evening.   The bats have abandoned us - no night flying insects for food, no point in staying here, despite a wonderfully cool, vinous cellar - the one immediately under our bedroom. 

This moth escaped the bats, only to die inside.

Whilst we miss the crickets it is a great pleasure to hear early morning and late evening bird song again.  The cooler weather has also made the birds more bold.  Even when we are on the terrace, with a glass of wine and a meal, they venture into the overhanging grape vines to pick at the ripe grapes.  One evening a female blackbird looked at me balefully as she ventured towards the ripe grapes.  The various finches that are around here are more discreet.

Up there in the greenery are the grapes - the birds are getting more than us

Does anyone know how to make a bunch of grapes ripen more or less completely?   With flowers, such as gladioli, one pinches out the top bud to get all the rest to flower.   That, of course, can be done standing at a table - but overhead grapes?  Our gardiens, Alexandre & Audrey, have confiscated our step-ladder. Probably for the best.

Looks like a grape jelly year.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Return of the Slugs

At last the rains came!  They came at intervals, noisily, but little and to little
effect. Except, of course, being unpredictable, many people and things got unexpectedly wet.  Washing and drying cushions of thoroughly soaked outdoor furniture is no joke.   But, I suspect, if I had not left it outside - as a sacrifice,you understand - we might not have had any rain at all.

In all, over the last week, we have been blessed by about 20mm of rainwater - different parts of the county had more or less.  But the downpours have uplifted the spirits of people, birds, and slugs.

People and slugs have the same interest - the imminent arrival, should the weather warm the soil again, of boletus edulis,  or any other form of  edible boletus.   I found a first one, it looked like a proper bolet until I grabbed its stem.  This went bright blue.   To be avoided.
and I barely touched it, honest!

It is as though the slugs came down with the rain.  They were everywhere in the woods - not crossing the open, grassy spaces but staying under the trees.   Perhaps because the buzzards like a slug or two?   We have a couple of noisy pairs in the valley.

The song birds, too, revived with the wet.    Possibly because the wet brought with it, let's say revived, insect life. Just flies, the odd ant, and some rather dopey moths.   I rescued two tiger moths from the swimming pool - alive. I even rescued a couple of crickets and a wasp.  There is still no apparent return of the vespidae family.

But the slug are happy, finding toadstools, and friends.    Here is the beginning of a promising relationship.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dust and Heat - no insects

The 15th of August, a pivotal date in the French holiday calendar, is well and truly past. Most holiday visitors have returned home. But the bees, wasps, hornets and Asian vespe-nasties do not seem to have returned. There are few flies or moths.No slugs.

I have seen one bumble bee, no wasps but probably a hornet. Something went under the hem of my skirt. My heavy hand came down. It stung me and died. I limped with a hot, swollen knee for the next week.

The good news is that the Little Black Hen has ceased to hope she could turn golf balls into chicks, even after several weeks dedicated sitting.   She is back to producing her wonderful rich yolk eggs in their pale grey-green shells.

But the autumn crocus has appeared rather early, not deterred by the absence of rain. Curiously it does not seem to spread very far from its original locations when we first saw them over 30 years ago. Must check why.
Not so large a clump as in previous years...

The absence of insects, especially moths, is a disaster for the bats that have recently installed themselves in JP’s cool cellar. They come out at dusk, fly hopefully under the great oaks at the end of the garden. Whether they catch anything we cannot see – I did save a tiger moth from the pool but it disappeared as soon as its wings were dry.

The bats have become more numerous over the past couple of years and we are hopeful their presence will prove our absence to any local authority concerned with such matters Especially as dearly beloved has a tendency to leave the cellar light on – I can see it through the cracks in our bedroom floor boards. Surely darkness loving animals would not stay where light is on all day? Anyway, my former home made liqueur shelf is now nearly a half inch deep in mouse shit. Proof of human absence.

The continual human and ovine shuffling in the dust does throw up some curiosities, mostly fossils. I use them in the window boxes of the geraniums. The fossils appear in the stone paths and on the very dry field slopes. Some are simple cockle shell remains, others seem to have had a possibly nacreous shell.

An imposing shell for the slug fighting geraniums

The sheep, which love to rub their backs against the rough fruit tree stems, revealed the collection of fossils below – best fossil ever! According to the geological map of La Chaise there is a tongue shaped area of sandy soil leading into the field which sometimes throws up some pretty agate style stones.  The rest of the territory is solid limestone with a little earth on top.

Add caption

Just stop to think: once this place was under sea.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Slug fest

One of the most delightful happenings in country life is the ‘al fresco’ lunch or - ‘dejeuner sur l’herbe’ normally served and eaten more or less dressed, both people and food.

The whole requires a little planning, make sure there is enough wine and cold cuts plus best garden salads, fresh bread, tomatoes, and that the whole fits on one tray. First caveat, never ever put stemmed wine glasses or wine bottles on same tray as food. This can lead to severe balance problems.

This was in evidence a few days ago at La Chaise main house. The food tray was well garnished, the wine cool and the glasses’ newly rinsed in vinegar to remove hard water deposits. The door to the terrace was ajar.

Angling myself to open same door with elbow (a housewifely talent) I suddenly spotted a slug coming in the opposite direction: that is it wanted to come in whilst I wanted to go out. Treading on slugs is wrong. My foot hovered over slug and the tray wobbled. Recovering my balance I kicked the slug sort of out of my way. Only slugs, aka ‘gastropods’ have sticky undersides and are not easily displaced by kicking. But all ended well, for slug and food.

Yet, where do slugs go when it is hot? We have had temperatures plus plus 30C for the last week or so. Apparently (wikipedia) slugs seek out damp places to lurk until temperatures come back to normal. So, question, was it heading for my bathroom or just trying a short cut across the house to the compost heap? I don’t know, but a second one was caught in the door jamb a few days later.

Few gardeners like slugs. A particular hatred for them is confined to the Dordogne and perhaps other wooded parts of France, because the slugs get to the coveted boletus edulis before two legged beings can, leaving rather sad cèpe specimens which require a lot of cleaning.

Slug got here first
Only partly joking, I have suggested we plant rows of lettuces in front of our cèpe rich woods to distract same slugs. But, of course, this would only accelerate a race between the sheep and any rabbits that are left on our land.

Pre-slug visit

Somewhere I read that someone had suggested geraniums as the ultimate slug deterrent. I am not sure about this – I do know that blue window frames and shutters with geranium plants are largely used in the warmer countries of Eastern and Middle Eastern Europe to deter flies and mosquitoes. But where is the relationship with slugs? Has anyone seen a woodland framed in geranium plants – cultivated ones, not the wild variety? Geranium extract is a fungicide – would it be poisonous for sheep?

Avaunt ye - Slugs!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fighting greenery

It is not just the wild animals of all sizes that fight for existence in our sheltered glade where humans are the proxies for domesticated animals. Plants fight too. The loser in a plant fight dies of strangulation or suffocation.

Two of the most fearsome fighting wild plants are the ivy and the convolvulus, the former can destroy walls, the latter both stifles and strangles everything in its path. But it does offer a pretty flower as a distraction, rather like a boa constrictor’s smile.

Two of the most vigorous cultivated fighting plants are the vine and the wisteria, with the lesser known bignonia not far behind. The wisteria’s weakness is that in its teenage years it suffers from sudden death syndrome.
Terrace covering seen from underneath

These plants do appreciate human made supports, such as the iron bars over our terrace, or any handy upward stem. At present there is a race on between the vine and the wisteria to reach the palm tree nearest the terrace. It seems as though the vine has won.

Palm tree under attack from native plants

Curiously, the summer after we installed ourselves at La Chaise, wandering round assessing the largest, tallest oaks for felling – we needed both firewood and cash – we saw the oddest sight. Hung on the topmost branches of a slender 40m high oak were ripe grapes. The oak had grown on the edge of a former vineyard.

Some plants, like chickens, are cannibal. We have several oak saplings growing within the dried out stump of their ancestor.
Some are fighting off an invasion of cherry saplings whose pips were probably dropped by cherry greedy birds or martens.

Curiously, one five leaved oak sapling is growing out of the chicken house wall. An acorn cannot have fallen into that space. A bird would not have pushed it into that space. I suspect No 1 grandson who delights in pushing acorns into holes.

Overweening ambition

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Missing wasps, bees - and hornets.

It was only after several days of sitting happily on La Chaise main house terrace, sheltered by the vine and the wisteria, soothed by glasses of wine that I realised something was missing. Something important that was usually very, very present, that usually troubled my calm.

As I gazed at the geraniums on the balustrade, the ivy sneaking up at them from below, I saw last year’s wasp trap tangled in the climber. Then it struck me.

What was missing were the wasps, the bees and even the nasty little Asian hornets were very much not present. I had only seen one dopey full sized hornet inside the house.
Normally I sit on the terrace a little nervously, trying to guard my wine and food

The wasp trap is an empty plastic Badoit bottle clasped by a neat yellow gadget invented by an ingenious Italian. Despite the fact that my body reacts very badly to wasp and hornet stings I do hate to see them drowning. Bees seem to have more sense than to be tempted by dilute but strongly scented honey.

This worried me quite a lot. So I telephoned the local Chambre d’Agriculture in Perigueux to see if there was an expert who could explain. There was a bee specialist and he did explain. Apparently the weather in the beginning months of this year in the Dordogne had been so unstable, predominantly wet, that the queens of the vespidae had not been able to breed. ‘ But after August 15th,’ he said,’they will be back.’

August 15th is another pivotal day of the French July-August holiday season. Then millions of holiday makers will be on a chassee-croisee of the French motorways – it is changeover time! Fingers crossed that the wasps do not return until everyone is settled.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Seen in the woodshed...

Seen in the woodshed yesterday......!

Actually, it is only a dried wood mushroom and small at that....

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dog days in the Dordogne

On Monday 18th July I received a warning e-mail from St Aquilin Mairie – pre-alerte jaune canicule – which had been initiated by the Prefecture de la Dordogne. The colour indicates the importance of the warning – rouge is the highest..

Proudly I mentioned this to my daughter as we were with baby boy in the pool. It was hot. She swiftly brought me down to earth. ‘You got that because you are old. Old people don’t drink enough when it is hot, water I mean.’ Baby splashed. ‘ Chickens don’t either,’ she continued,’which is why battery chicken farms have such a high mortality in extreme hot weather.’

The following Tuesday the temperature peaked at 38 C.

wet sheet hanging limply from shutters - dry in 3 hours

It takes Northern peoples some time to get round to the idea that when it is hot all doors, windows, shutters and any other apertures, should be closed. Some shutters at La Chaise will not shut because of the window boxes. These I close as far as possible and hang an old sheet over the gap. This time I first made the sheet wet.

I even hung a wet sheet over the doors to the conservatory but this year could not reach it with the hose to soak the cane protection on the roof.

Inside one has as few lights on as possible – lights give off heat plus the impression of heat. Everywhere we had fans going, tall fans on stands and table top ones. Although all that they do is to move hot air around, it feels like a breeze and anyone who is perspiring will feel immediately cooler.

I even thought of wetting the terracotta roof tiles of the chicken house. But our chickens are sensible: they hide under bushes.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Death in the valley

An evil shadow has been spread over the tranquil fields of La Chaise. Some errant dog, or dogs, have been stalking the flock in the early morning hours and killing lambs..
The flock in early morning mist

Apparently, according to a sympathetic, official passing expert, they are likely to be domestic dogs, not abandoned, not starving, for they do not eat their trophies. They are hunting for that is in their doggy nature.. So the blame lies with their humans.

For us, although we know most of the lambs are destined for slaughter, sacrifice is the more popular French word, the loss is heart-breaking. We feel we have failed to keep them safe.
One that we failed to keep safe

There is nothing, and yet a lot, that can be done to protect the flock during the hours of darkness. Firstly, they can be brought into the sheep shed, fed and closed in. This is much resented by all. The ewes have already spent more than 3 months closed in during the worst of the cold and the best of the lambing. The lambs are bored in the barn – and consequently get themselves into trouble. Also, since the furthest pasture is a kilometre trip, aller-retour, this is no fun for Alex either.

Were it permitted we could put heavy duty electric cabling round the outside of the property – all 4 kms of fencing. (Audrey checked the fencing by walking all round it – wearing a 'fitbit' thingie). This would need to be on the top and bottom of the fencing which already has two rows of barbed wire at the top, one at the bottom. Never mind the trouble, or the cost – we would be in serious trouble if some child, or other illiterate, tried to get through and got shocked, perhaps fatally.

A more long term solution is to invest in a sheep defending dog – as opposed to sheep-herding dog.

What we are permitted to do is to shoot any unaccompanied dog seen in our fields, an option as unpleasant as the killing of the lambs. But then I have to remember where we put the shot gun, and the shot – and none of us are shots of any kind. And I strongly suspect the dog, or dogs will not stand still whilst we aim. One can only hope they are trained enough to come to heel when called and so be caught.

Obviously we all have extremely unfriendly, not to say evil, thoughts about the humans involved with this dog or dogs. But we remember that, deep down, dogs are dogs. Our dear Czeta, our first black Labrador, came from an impeccable home, was extremely well trained. I even managed to train her to close the front door after she had opened it to come in. But, on arrival, she had to be discouraged from killing the farm chickens – forcibly. A chicken carcasse dowsed in diesel, and 24 hrs with same attached to her neck in the dark and smelly chicken house, subdued that instinct. So, until she had pups, the chickens lived and happy, fear-free life.

We kept one puppy with her, the future 'Edward, the Black Prince of La Chaise'. (Not so fondly remembered in Aquitaine, probably.) As soon as Edward was old enough, Czeta, as a good doggy mother, taught him to kill chickens. So he too had to go through the diesel sodden dead chicken in dark shed for 24 hours training.

It worked. But it did not stop him running away, especially after he was the father of nine pups with a female black Labrador, just over the hill, not so far away. Not that he ever came back by himself. He would plonk himself down at the neighbour's house – where he and his mother had lodged for a few weeks – and wait for us and our car to be summoned. But, to the best of our knowledge, he never killed any animal whilst on the run.

He once brought a leveret home in his mouth - alive!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

slowly, slowly, grow the meat...

In the village of Chanterac I once got to know a farmer who specialised in duck rearing, making his own foie gras, confit de canard and other delicacies. He had invested heavily in what he called his laboratoire, the hygiene certified place in which he sacrificed*, cut – up and processed his ducks. He had a display and tasting room and visitors could see his ducks wandering around outside – males and females separately.

He wanted my help in marketing his holiday chalet business. The English are very odd, you know, he confided to me. They will come and feed the ducks, taste and buy the produce – but they refuse to visit my state of the art salle d'abattage. It was clean, quiet and he 'sacrificed' only a few ducks at a time.
A muscovy drake and one of his ducks - Muscovies can live up to 15 years
- they are the main breed used in producing a fat liver - but only the males.

There is a mega industrial duck crisis in the South-West of France. The region's 4,000 odd commercial breeders and foie gras producers, spread over eight departments, have been instructed to close down their operations. Their stock has to be killed, the production hangars thoroughly disinfected and where necessary brought up to certain hygiene standards. A four month long vide sanitaire has been declared.

This is an attempt to eradicate avian 'flu – a first case was signaled in the Dordogne last November on a family farm. Everyone with poultry has been asked to confine their birds to a limited area, roofed over to avoid contamination by passing wild fowl. Avian flu is deadly for fowl, nasty for humans but only passed onto to humans in very rare cases.

There is no need for me to spell out the hopefully temporary economic disaster for the area or its repercussions on the associated businesses. The region produces 80 per cent of all French foie gras. Some of the major producers are saying that – given the shut down is only for four months – there will still be foie gras du Sud-Ouest for Christmas and New Year festivities.

But I have been culpably unaware of the industrial scale of foie gras production, the sheer wastage and cruelty of it. Perhaps because I have seldom bought branded duck meat or foie gras and now will certainly consciously avoid doing so. As I occasionally observe to the visiting holiday makers, if possible, only eat meat whose origins and upbringing (parents if you will) you know. Obviously easier in the country than in town.

Man may have been given dominion over animals by God or gods but I do not think this gives us the right to turn animals into protein factories.

* Fishermen refer to the cosh they use to stun fish as a
'priest'....some remnants of respect,

Sunday, April 10, 2016

In life we are....

No need to spell out the rest of this sombre quotation. We have suffered one tragedy in the fields of La Chaise, another nearer the main house.

The lambs and their mothers have been in the fields for many days now, coming in only at night. Then, a couple of days ago Alexandre mooted the notion of leaving the flock out overnight. I thought it was a good idea. The weather was clement and it took a lot of time, much rattling of the maize pan, plus encouragement from (H)aska the not-quite sheep dog, to get the newly liberated sheep back inside. This way time could be spent mucking out and mending their winter quarters.

Tonight we stay out...

To shorten the suspense, yes some beast had killed a grown lamb overnight in the field, torn off a back leg to be exact. This is not the first time we have experienced such a death. The last occurrence was when Bianca (Beauceron mostly) and Elvis-Non! were still in residence. Then a fawn had been killed in the same manner. In both cases the suspicion falls on a dog, a lost hunting dog or an abandoned pet.

We had some warning that a killer animal was around for a wounded badger was discovered by (H)aska, the day before the lamb's death, under the main house terrace. The crawl space there is not very salubrious but Audrey, with torch, did her best to see what was the matter. Apparently there was a large wound on the badger's back. It was obviously dying, Audrey thought. She was more than saddened for she thought the badger might be a pregnant female – a badger has been seen very recently prospecting for a home around the main house.

When there is a wounded or trapped wild animal, we call on the local chasse to despatch it – coypu or pine martens and similar. The chasse members are trained shots. We are not. It is a service offered to us by the chasse as its members have much appreciated our well kept pine plantation, wild boar heaven, apparently.

For those who, understandably, instinctively refuse to believe a trained pet could kill, here follows the story of the empress Czeta and her son, Edward the Black Prince of La Chaise. Czeta was an intelligent labrador. She could open – and close – doors! She held policemen at bay but not the postie. She knew our friends. Also she had been forcibly trained not to kill chickens, a diesel soaked carcass attached to her neck, both shut in a dark place overnight. Nasty. But she taught her son kill chickens. Then he had to be discouraged in the same manner.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The point of an Easter Egg

Has anyone else noticed that commercial eggs, eggs bought in shops or from market stalls, lack two important characteristics? None of them are plain white and very, very few have a pointy end. (Hint: if you do see white eggs, check whether they are duck eggs before buying.)
commercial eggs, bought Sunday 27/03 morning - note triangles

To me these seem an important cultural loss, not least because teachers of English, teaching Gulliver's Travels, will have to explain what the Littlendians and Bigendians were on about to children for whom eggs are simple ovals. Secondly, it takes away the fun of hitting a boiled egg on one end or the other, or slicing through in one quick, skilled movement and argument as to which is the best technique*.

last week's La Chaise eggs

My first job, for pocket money, was in a greengrocer's shop, part of a national chain, where I packed up orders for delivery and sorted the eggs, stamped with the little British Lion mark. It was in the days of 'Go to Work on an Egg' advice, long before eggs were declared to be dangerous to health, if not downright bad for the susceptible – cholesterol and allergies. I sorted the eggs into brown and white. The brown went into a straw lined wicker basket, lion stamp inwards, under the handwritten sign 'Fresh Farm Eggs, with a handwritten price.
commercial eggs - note triangle
The virtual disappearance of the white hen's egg, deprives children and adults (usually mothers, of course) of another charming Easter ritual. This one involved interestingly shaped green leaves – clover, fern tops, small but perfect oak leaves – brown onion skins and yards of white muslin bandage.
Children collected the leaves whilst mother washed the eggs. The leaves stuck to the damp egg, which was then wrapped in onion skins, then wrapped in muslin, carefully fixed with a pin and boiled hard. Instant decorated egg.

Two prize La Chaise eggs - with pointy ends!
Later, when safe flavourless food colouring became available to housewives, the eggs were often luridly coloured and hidden in the house or garden for young children to find. When we sold our London house a couple of years ago, I found a mini chocolate cream egg in the garden, lodged in the crook between leaf stem and leaf of a ficus. I decided to leave it – for luck – for the new owner.

* If you must find an argument of this nature – try walnuts. There are those who think they are easier to crack if hit, with boxwood hammer, on the pointed end. Then there are those who think the opposite. Of course, third parties think they should be hit on the join between the two ends....This argument is confined to people hand-cracking walnuts for walnut oil purposes.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A natural question

It is always a joy to return to La Chaise from 'Away' especially in the Spring. The grass and the trees have been washed clean. New grass is lushly growing. Catkins grace the hazel twigs, sway with the slightest waft of air. The stream flows from the ravine into the lake. It overflows. The sheep in the shed complain: they want OUT, NOW.

Of course there is mud, there are puddles and water flows from the woods to join the stream. The sheep cannot be allowed out quite yet for 80 kilos spread over four small cloven feet, probably half the size of your hand, will churn up fields worse than a wild boar looking for worms. We compromise and let them into the fenced woodland either side of the house. The sheep eat anything green, the lambs just rush around being silly.
Hyacinths returned to the 'wild'
And I rush around to see which wild flowers have come out where, whether the rosettes of fat green leaves that indicate possible wild orchids later are in the usual places. Also I like to check whether the 're-wilding' of my former pot plants has succeeded. The answer is mostly, or yes up to a point. It has succeeded with hyacinths liberated from the window boxes and with some primulas. Some of the latter come back with primula flowers – one reverted back to being a cowslip, but a dark red cowslip. I think the sheep ate it.

Daffodils a-drooping
Given the conventional idea that Nature's creations are all 'fit for purpose' (humans excepted, possibly) I wonder why so many daffodil stems break once they carry a flower? It does not seem to vary with the type of daffodil, double or single, narcissus or classic yellow, wild or planted. For three score years and ten (plus)* I have believed that daffodils, like all bulb plants, spread by the division of the parent bulb. Now I learn that they also have seeds but these take a long time to germinate into a bulb then a flower. Not a commercial proposition – but may account for random clumps appearing suddenly in unexpected places.
Rescued daffodils on kitchen table.

Planting daffodil bulbs is not as easy as I had thought.   Some years ago I bought about 100 bulbs from a very respectable Dutch horticultural catalogue and asked Arnold to plant them at the end of the lawn.  They came up two years running then ...I don't know, either that part of the lawn was too dry or the moles had eaten the bulbs.

One worrying observation:  the juniper bushes on the slopes of Fontenelles field( aka 'Greece' towards no 4 green) are all dying.  As these are very much associated with wild orchids - why i do not know -  I was much saddened.   Young juniper bushes are springing up elsewhere - but how long before the wild orchids migrate to join them?

The end of junipers on 'Greece'?

*  Actually I don't think my mother taught me about bulbs until I could read, so deduct five years
from that figure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Our small commune, St Aquilin (pop 500) is riven by rumours, libel, slander and general ill-will over a project that, in the abstract, is all that fits in with current bio preconceptions, all that could be desired ecologically, arguably even economically. In real life, in this real village, it is expensive,in the wrong place, probably not economic and so, arguably, just plain daft.

The project is to create a methane gas plant that would be fuelled by cowshit and other farm detritus, that would produce electricity which would mostly be sold to the French state electricity body, Electricite de France, some used to dry farm produce that is otherwise subject to weather variations, such as maize, walnuts, wood, hay.

Here is the first snag: a monopoly purchaser is as unreliable as a monopoly supplier. Those whose decision, a decade or so ago, to cover barn roofs in solar panels, was swayed by the option to 'sell' electricity in excess to their own needs, will very probably agree.

The project has been launched by probably the village's largest, in terms of land owned or leased, accredited organic farmer.  He is a charming, active young man who has specialised in rearing cows, growing cereals and gathering walnuts.  His rapid acquisition of land, whether purchased or leased, has inevitably irritated others who either coveted the same properties or generally go 'mutter,suffer,grumble' about 'upstarts' and whatever the French is for 'getting too big for his boots.'  He is associated with a few other farmers in the immediate neighborhood (not actually St Aquilin locals) and has formed an association that has been given the State accolade GIEE – groupement d'interet economique et environnemental – by the Department of Agriculture.
The farm buildings, surrounded by trees, many of which will have to come down - site of the future gas dome

Unfortunately, the operational centre of his farming activity, and the proposed site for the methaniseur is surrounded by woodland, some of it protected. Not far from this rustic centre, at the end of a rural road shaded by ancient chestnuts are four houses and an unexceptional chateau.

Their proprietors learned of the project by accident through an article in the local newspaper, the respected Sud-Ouest early in 2015. Not surprisingly they are incensed and very vocal on the subject.

An existing gas dome of similar size to the one projected

Their complaints vary from the insecurity of the project –
methane is an unstable gas, deadly in some forms (ask coal miners) and popularly known for its use as rocket fuel;
include damage to the local environment as 25 ton lorries deliver the (smelly) raw material on a road not suited to such weights;
- is uneconomic and will not create the projected jobs;
- last but not least, the impact on the value of their properties...nimbyism exists in rural France, too.

It is also argued that Germany, so far ahead in many matters ecological, is having second thoughts about the impact of methane gas plants, that it has shut some down.

Also, there is already a methaniseur under construction in the commune of St Astier, not far away, on a main road. (Random info: St Astier was a more important saint than St Aquilin, the two are thought to have been friends. St Astier has a church to his name that is 1,000 years old, well the site is anyway.)

There are only four real employers based in St Aquilin, the
Mairie and the school, the bar,restaurant,epicerie Le St Aquilin, and the camp site with summer bar and restaurant, also a stocked lake for fishing, L'Etang des Garennes. The latter two, only potential employers, are also likely to suffer from the development.

The heart of the problem of this near 3m euro project, the 7th such in the Dordogne, is that it cannot get off the ground without departmental, state and EEC aid. No one can predict, should it come into existence, how long it will need a monetary subvention. It is an expense for the many, of benefit to a few.