Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas (and what on an earth happened to 2011!)

It's Christmas Eve and all is quiet! Well not really but I decided that I really must try and make a quietish few minutes to update my blog just in case anyone wants to read it after receiving my Christmas card. As you can see from the more limited number of entries this year I have rather got out the habit of regular posting. As usual there is much I could say but somehow the urgency or the need to say it passes as I get absorbed in the many and varied things that make up my life. I think that has been the biggest change since making the move here; and that is that although we do have a routine, each day is different.

So we have been here over a year. You would think that would be long enough to get settled and feel part of the furniture, but no, I feel like we have only just arrived. We still have both vehicles on UK number plates, my French is a little better but we still watch mainly UK TV (although we do actually have a French TV arial but realised that there is just as much cr*p on French TV as there is in the UK). However I can now spend a whole day in the company of French people, listening to and speaking some French, without getting the headache from hell.

In order to improve my French and maybe to see if I can get some work as an Occupational Therapist, I have been spending one day a week at the local nursing home as a volunteer come student. Sometimes I am not sure that I want to bother, but what it has done is to help me feel more part of French life rather than the ex-pat community. I have also done some occasional work in Bordeaux, helping occupational therapy students evaluate research papers in English. It has been a very steep learning curve and I am not sure that I have really got the hand of it, but spending the odd day in Bordeaux is a nice change from the country from time to time.

Apart from these activities most of our time has been taken up with trying to make progress on the house. We have worked hard but these things take time, and we are still semi-camping in two rooms. However we now have the basics of  a swimming pool, the foundations for the garage, a half a front garden, a drive and are making progress with the plumbing and electrics. Next job is to build the garage so we can decant our things there and then finish off the final floor in the house.

The other thing I have done this year is get a dog. It was something I always wanted to do but could never even think about when I lived and worked in the UK. So, now we have a Gremlin, a 7 month old Australian Cattle dog, who as I write is chewing his tail to pieces in an attempt to alleviate the frustration of flea bites, a short attention span, exitability and rageing hormones! I am now a member of the Club Canine de Bergerac, where Gremlin continues to embarrass me by being a b*gger with me but behaving himself when anyone else takes his lead!

So now I am off to prepare a shrimp pasta thingy and drink some wine to celebrate our second Christmas in France.

Happy Christmas to you all.
 get relief from hi

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Building the yellow brick road

I noticed today that the vines are suddenly bare; almost overnight the yellow leaves fell to the ground. Winter is approaching. It gets light at about 8.00 and is dark by 5.45 in the evening, so less than 12 hours of daylight. However, the temperatures have still been mild enough to sit on the terrace in a T-shirt during the day. As dawn breaks, if it has been clear, a morning mist emerges, edging up the land from the river. Most mornings it clears up, but some days it lingers almost all day, making it feel cold.

We have been focussing on finishing the driveway. It sounds like a luxury but the downside of having an unfinished drive is that as soon as it rains the ground turns to muck and sludge and we tread it all into the house. Worse still, it sticks to all our shoes and if you don't remove it whilst wet, attempts to chip it off when dry usually end up removing the sole of the shoe as well. The other problem is that if we need to have anything delivered, without a solid driveway it can only be delivered to the edge of the land.

before

So last week Ian marked out the drive and we put down some geotextile. Monday morning a large lorry arrived full of yellow gravel, hence the yellow brick road. Yellow gravel is important because the white stuff disintegrates and gets sticky, whereas the yellow stuff packs down nicely.

We eventually needed 4 lorry loads as the drive is about 100 metres in total; and rather than the two days Ian had estimated it took more than a week to finally get it all down and spread out. This was mostly due to the fact that the lorry couldn't drive down there without getting stuck and so we had to have it delivered to the car park and then Ian had to transport it down to where it was needed in a dumper truck. The result was very pleasing and I now feel a little more ready to brave the winter knowing I might be able to keep at least one pair of shoes free from mud.
stuck lorry being towed out by tractor

After

The other job we have been doing is planting some fruit trees in the front garden. 24th November is the day they should be planted, so on Saturday we to a tree show in the Lot et Garonne, where we were spoilt for choice with varieties of apples, pears, apricots etc. In the end we bought 6 tress and 6 fruit bushes. Planting them required the digger and buckets of horse manure and lots of hard work, but we eventually managed.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A year ago

All of a sudden the warm Autumn days and crisp nights have given way to the grey and damp days of November. Not that it is cold yet, and we haven't needed to use much heating at all, but we have suddenly had about a months rain in three days and everywhere is looking rather soggy. We are back to treading mud in through the entire house every time we go outside and regretting that we have not got round to finishing the drive yet.
Ian is now focussing on doing some electrics as the temperature is ideal in the loft for running wires and lifting insulation. He is installing something called a VMC or ventilation mechanique controlee. This is standard in all French new homes and is a whole house ventilation system that works by extracting humid air from the bathrooms and kitchen and drawing air through the rest of the house, thus hopefully preventing the problem of condensation that is common in modern sealed houses!

Just to proove it isn't always sunny here!
I realised last week that it was a year ago that I gave up my full time job. Have I missed it? Well, I miss the security of the regular paycheck, although when I had it, I never really appreciated it. I haven't missed the regular, boring routine and the internal politics at all. I suppose to some extent I have struggled with losing some of my professional identity, but as I become more settled here and my life here gets fuller, it becomes less and less important.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The dog whisperer

Thursday saw us heading North to the Corr├Ęze, about a two hour drive from our house. The purpose was to meet some other cattle-dog and kelpie owners and give Gremlin his first try out with sheep. We found the farm using sat.nav., perched on a hillside surrounded by fields and other farms. The Correze is one of the least densely populated departements in France and the farm consisted of an old stone cottage, lived in by the grandmother, a slightly bigger house belonging to the mother and father and big farmhouse, that seemed to be occupied by various siblings and their families. We were greeted by a barking cattle dog and a yard full of border collies.

We were the first to arrive, shortly followed by Pascal (the dog whisperer), Gremlin's breeder and her Dutch friend, and an English woman from Brittainy who had driven for 9 hours in a small car with her teenage daughter and 7 dogs!

As I said earlier, the idea was to see if Gremlin and the other dogs had a natural herding instinct, and to see some of the other dogs. I was immediately struck by how much bigger Gremlin was compared to the other cattle dogs. Each dog got a chance to meet the sheep, starting by running round the ring while the owner and Pascal were inside. When Pascal felt the dog was ready he let him in and then watched what he did with the sheep, encouraging him to be interested in them. I say Pascal is a dog whisperer but he would never call himself that. He just has a natural instinct with dogs and watching him communicate with them and work with them was amazing to see. He frowned at my use of treats and said 'the way to train a dog is with the leash'; producing a 2 metre piece of fine line and demostrating how he used this to get the dogs to follow him. His 'hobby' is to rescue border collies from frustrated owners and dog pounds and train them up to be sheep dogs, selling them on at the end for no doubt less money than he spent on them.

So was gremlin any good with sheep? Well, the first time in the 'ring' he ran round like a mad thing, chased the other dogs, and then as soon as the sheep moved he got scared and jumped out of the ring! He got another chance when he was a bit calmer and then proceeded to be mostly interested in eating sheep poo rather than herding sheep. The breeder thought that all was not lost and he may improve as he ages. She managed to take this picture of him looking half interested!

Gremlin, sheep and Ian

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Autumn jobs

Ian returned from UK as planned with another van full of materials, tools, possessions, a topper, a box for the tractor and roller shutter garage doors x2! Unloading took a couple of days but we managed with help and as the boxes just added to the clutter already here we hardly seem to notice them!

Autumn is here all of a sudden. The trees are turning and the vines have lost most of their leaves; but autumn isn't as spectacular as it is in colder parts. The days are now decidedly shorter as well and we have got up in the dark a few mornings this week.

October
One of the first jobs was to sow some grass seed in the field. We ploughed up the far end and according to the farmer it had to be sowed this week in time for the rain. Monday morning early Ian and farmer drove up and down the field several times and got the job finished! In the middle were some old hay bales that were never used. We tried to spread them but they fell apart so the farmer stuck a match and they ended up in flames! It was a bit worrying to see how easy they went up and a bit of luck that they didn't go up in the dry summer.
Burning the bales
The final job that we finished this afternoon was to hibernate the swimming pool for the winter. This involved reducing the level a little, cleaning, putting in something called 'hivernage' (winteriser). In case of freezing you add a row of bobbing half empty coke bottles. The theory is that the bottles will squash up in any ice and thus prevent the pool from cracking. After this, we covered the pool with an old cover and fixed it as securely as we could with a row of old paving stones.

Bobbing bottles

Next job will be to finish our drive, so that we are not walking in mud everytime we go out of the house. We are a long way from Little England!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Still home alone

Ian left for UK 7 days ago now. He has been doing what most of us do in UK; driving around from one part of the country to another, sorting out things, visiting people, spending money and probably now acutely aware that all his clothes are tatty, worn out and when he walks into a shop everyone stares at him, wondering whether he is a down and out!

In the meantime life here ticks on at our slower than snails pace. It took a bit of adjustment to being here on my own. At first the silence was hard to deal with, until I reverted to one of my habits from my single life; that of having the TV on virtually all the time to provide the background noise! I have also been invited to friends houses for supper a couple of times, which has made a nice break from the silence. My main luxuries have been

1. Catching up with writing and other on-line activities that I have found strangely difficult to focus on lately.
2. Taking Gremlin for long tiring walks in the hope that he will calm down in the afternoon (except it is me that is sleepy and him that is wondering why I have suddenly stopped!)

The weather is becoming more like autumn, with colder nights but still warm sunny days. Autumn has also been anounced by the arrival of the cluster flies. These annoying little black buzzy flies head indoors about now to find somewhere warm to sleep over winter, and they are the most annoying things, ignoring the flourescent fly lamp and seeming to be particularly resistant to fly spray! Fortunately they don't lay eggs in the food and cause maggots!

The drought continues as we have had no rain since July, and that was after a bone dry spring. Today I walked Gremlin round the Lac de Lescouroux and looked at the old river course, the bridge, the road and not a drop of water.
lac de lescouroux 2011
Ian returns Thursday night and I am  looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

On my own

I have 10 days here on my own now, and it feels really strange. Ian has gone back to UK to sort out a few things and buy some more building supplies and I have stayed behind, mainly because the pet passport regulations don't change until January and so Gremlin can't travel.
I have a list of jobs that I want to do, many of them mundane. Today I wrote to my bank and did some work for an online module that I am still doing. Before starting that however, I decided to treat Gremlin to a long walk around the lake. The lake is a man made reservoir, formed 20 or so years ago by blocking off the river and flooding the valley. At the moment the levels are so low due to drought you can walk across it and see the old road, bridge and former course of the river. It's 5 miles around the main lake. It was meant to be warm and sunny today but instead there has been a mist over everything, especially the lake and so we had a brisk walk resulting in me being tired and Gremlin getting boisterous and grumpy. He got particularly exited by a dip in the stagnant smelly water, and now I smell like a stagnant smelly dog as I sit here wiriting this.

One of the jobs Ian managed to finish before leaving was putting the first row of bricks around the base of the garage; so now we are truly 'out of the gound' and I am hoping that progress will be rapid!

We have also been watching Little England, a lightweight bit of fluff describing life in these parts. All in all creates a pleasant picture of cloud cuckoo land that is several million miles from the reality but harmless enough!
(They don't show you the annoying, glue-pot black flies that seem to be around at the moment, that don't die with fly spray and sit on your nose just as you are about to take a mouthful of food! Yuk!)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Holiday

How could I forget to mention that we actually managed to have four days holiday as well before I went back to UK. We went to the West Coast of the Gironde, to the North of Bordeau. It reminded me of Canada and in particular the West Coast of Vancouver Island (although the weather was better!). There are miles and miles of sany beaches, surf, lakes and forest and fortunately not too many people. We had a lovely relaxing time, just the three of us!



Days out

I seem to now be into a routine of posting every 4 weeks or so. This seems to fit with most other bloggers who start by reporting on the processes of a major life change on a daily basis but then, once the change has occurred, settle into a less frequent and more mundane report on day to day events.
So, what has been happening? I made a brief visit to UK to see friends and family, flying in by the oh-so-cheap Ryan air and then taking the oh-so-expensive train once I had landed! It was a feast of friends, family and food and for me an indulgent few days. I got to eat a Chinese take-away, a curry, pizza and an English Sunday roast. I got to enjoy hundreds of sweaty armpits on the London Underground, people teaming on the pavements, traffic, noise and more people and although it was lovely to see everyone I was very glad to be back here.

I arrived back with Ian's mother, who made a brief visit to see our progress. The good thing about having people to stay is that you have an excuse to be a tourist for a few days and explore things in the area that we haven't seen before despite living here. So, in addition to the weekly market in Eymet we went to the gardens of Latour-Marliac, the largest collection of water lilies in Europe and the inspiration for Monet's own collection at his home in Giverny. 




And then yesterday we went to the national agricultural show in Bergerac for the local breed of cows, the Blonde d'Aquitaine. These are rather like the cows of the Limousin being pale coloured and very big. Although Gremlin is a cattle dog he did look a bit scared of them. I'm not suprised really as the bulls were the biggest, strongest looking beasts I have ever seen. In France all bulls must, by law, have a ring through their nose so that they can be handled more easier, and to see these enormous creatures being led around through a crowd by lightly built teenagers and girls was quite a sight.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sausages (and other things..)

Oh dear, my blogging has really slowed down since the arrival of Gremlin and the summer months. Its not that I don't have anything to say as I am often thinking about things that I want to write. It's just that everytime I think of them I am either nowhere near the computer, or doing other things, or about to take the dog for a walk. Here's where sausages come in. We took Gremlin to puppy school last weekend at the Bergerac Club Canine. It was reassuring to see that dog people are the same everywhere! The trainers were fierce looking women in leather and even Gremlin was called to order. However, in the end it was a combination of firm handling and a good smell of greasy, stinky, oily frankfuter sausage that had him eating out of my hand better than any other treat we have tried! He was excellent at the agility exercises, new situations and suprisingly good with other dogs, although dominant with them. Recall is a work in progress as even a smelly sausage was not enough to entice him away from the other dogs!

Job number two has been dealing with the abundance of fruit and veg that has appeared in my garden (or from the farmer). Despite a dry summer, poor soil and lack of attention from me I am overwhelmed with tomatoes. I also harvested my pumpkins and now have at least 50kg of pumkin to use.


Pumpkin Harvest

They are currently in the shower in the end bathroom, along with the remains of the onions. The courgettes have just about finished and I still have a few potatoes waiting in the ground. I am quite exited about the prospects for next year and have earmarked two new beds that need cultivating in autumn. In addition  to my produce we have been given figs, melons and strawberries and plums from the local farmer, to the extent that I don't really know what to do with them all. I have always thought it would be hard to starve here!

The other big job that has been looming was laying the concrete base for the garage. This was finally finished yesterday with the assistance of our friendly neighbours. At 8.30 in the morning a large truck arrived and poured 7 cubic metres of ready mixed concrete into the carefully prepared base.


Concrete delivery number 2
This was raked and tamped as a second lorry arrived with another load. Finally after some waiting a third lorry arrived with the final load and fortunately we just had enough to finish.

Concrete Boots!

We now have to wait a month or so before we can build on it and so we are off on a well deserved break for three days next week! We are staying here!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Getting on

I can't believe it's been nearly a month since I last made an entry here. Suddenly I have become so caught up in day to day things that I haven't had the energy to write about them, even though I have thought about many posts and things I could say.

Having the dog has forced us into some sort of routine. I get up at 7.00 or thereabouts and take him for a walk; I then give him breakfast and put him in his outside shelter while we get up. Mid-morning he has another play or walk, or comes out with us if we are going shopping, mid afternoon we do the same, followed by a longer walk in the evening and some training if we can. By this time, with any luck Gremlin is asleep in his box and sleeps through until morning whilst we are exhausted! He is growing fast and loves food, treats and play in that order. Everything else has little interest for him! I soon realised that you can read as many dog behaviour books as you like but nothing prepares you for those moments when it's just you and the dog and the dog has one idea and you have another! Before we got a cattle dog all the books said don't get a dog like this as your first dog, but we did anyway! I am not so sure that it would have helped having owned a dog before as if we were used to a nice laid back puppy we would never have been able to cope with this hyperactive over stimulated beast with ADHD! As it is, we are managing with what we have and enjoying his antics and behaviour. He seems to be thriving quite well on it!


Here he is at 13 weeks old but still a baby!

We have also had two jobs on the go to fit in around dog ownership. The first one has been to lay the base for the garage, as until the garage is built and we can move our possessions and tools into it, we can't finish off inside the house. The soil was scraped level by the builder but we have had to infill with gravel, put the shuttering in for the concrete, lay the damp proof membrane and put in the steel reinforcing. We have been fitting this in around the weather and other jobs but think we can get this done next week in preparation for the concrete, which will arrive in two lorries, ready mixed. Then we can take a small break until the autumn!

The other job has been to finish off the sofits around the tower and so prevent Renata redstart from making her third nest of the summer in our house. We had to wait to do this until the builder went on holiday and was able to lend us his heavy duty machine for getting up to the roof. He did this last week and although it was not fully operational (as with most of his machines) it did the job and we now do not have a gale blowing through the house everytime the wind blows

Ian on the machine!

I mentioned that we have been fitting in these jobs around the weather. After a hot spring and early summer we have now  had a really wet July, with storms and a fair bit of rain. Yesterday we had the most amazing double rainbow ending at our pot of gold!

Pot of gold in front of the field shelter

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Responsibilites

I suppose owning a puppy is the closest I will ever come to parental responsibility! I am getting used to balancing the puppy's needs of firm, fair treatment, our needs for a life and the demands of our continued project. For the first time in my life I am up at 6.30 and by 7.00 have walked for a mile or so. By 7.15 the dog has been fed and we have had tea and by 8.30 we are usually up and ready to go, having done all our morning jobs. Gremlin, in the meantime, is growing up faster than we can keep up with and is certainly living up to all the breed characteristic of being intelligent, strong willed, energetic and loving human company, especially ours. Ian is also warming to him as well although the walking is definitely my responsibility!

The dry summer has been particularly bad for the vegetable garden as even with watering, the high temperatures have burnt a lot of the leaves. Also, as it is the first year of growing on my patch and I did not have much time to cultivate the soil I was not holding out any high hopes. So, it was too hot for the spinach, the peppers are tiny, the aubergines have not flowered and the potoes have produces a minimal crop. However, for some reason the pumpkins are enormous and will be ready for harvesting soon.


Locally the farmers are pessimistic about the sunflower crop this year, which is way below what it should be. With the cost of fertiliser, seeds and the labour to sew and harvest they need a good yield just to break even.


 I am still going to the nursing home on a volunteer basis. It takes quite a bit of energy but it helps with my French and I love the engagement with the residents. We will see how it progresses over the summer!

Ian is off to see a friend over the weekend so I have a few days here to myself to catch up with some writing, admin and do my tax return!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Gremlin

So the pool is in, connected and finished as much as it can be before winter, as we need to wait for the earth to settle before we lay the slabs around. The temperature has been increasing and we have been glad of somewhere to cool off.

In the end we had just a couple of days to finish the outside dog area before we had to collect Gremlin. It was a boiling hot afternoon as we drove to Bordeaux and our morning shopping trip was stressful and unrewarding. We finished with our usual meatball lunch in Ikea and then drove out to the breeders home, a little later than we hoped. Gremlin was out playing with his brothers and sisters when we arrived. After a while the others were put back in the puppy pen and Gremlin stayed out. He came in to the house, we sorted out the paperwork and then took him with us.

His first voyage was in the crate that we used to bring the cat down with us. It was more than big enough and after a few minutes of high pitched barkng he settled down the the journey, uttering the occasional whimper as Neil's cornering caused him to slide across the cage!

On the whole he has been pretty easy for a high energy, intelligent puppy. He sleeps okay in the night in his crate, he has only had the occasional accident, he now tolerates a lead and he will do anything tp please, but what I have learnt the most is that with a puppy you have to spend time getting to know each other and finding out what works and what doesn't. There is no one way of doing it; only a few principals and a lot of trial and error. What I hadn't realised before is how forgiving dogs are and that you don't have to get it right first time. I have a lot to learn.
Gremlin at 9 weeks

Friday, 24 June 2011

The week of the pool

The focus of this week has been the swimming pool; checking the hole, awaiting the delivery, getting it in place, filling, backfilling, connecting up the filters and pipework etc etc. This is the story of the week in pictures.
This is how the pool arrived, on a truck from the South of France. It left Monday and arrived with us on Tuesday.
It was hoisted into the air


And lowered into the hole (the hole was 'impecable')
Our neighbours helped with the filling in with gravel (what lovely neighbours)
As the pool was slowly filled with water

The filters and skimmers were connected

And Ian went for a swim

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Pools and plants

This week has felt busy. Ian has continued to dig the hole for the pool, this time with some help from our neighbour. It arrives next week and we are slightly anxious and slightly exited. It is coming on the back of a lorry from the South of France; staying nearby on Monday night and arriving first thing Tuesday, when, all being well it will be carefully lowered into the big hole!

In the meantime growth in garden has slowed down a little due to lack of rain and sun. However today I harvested my first courgette. Apparently from now onwards I will be inundated with the little green things and by the end of June running out of courgette recipes!



Monday, 13 June 2011

More tractors!

Ian has been struggling to dig the pool and has got rather disheartened with it. I think it is just one of those things when you take on a big project, as when things don't go quite to plan it can become overwhelming. We needed a day off and Ian had been looking forward to Sunday's event for a long time. It was a heat in the national tractor pulling competition that took place about 20km from us in the Lot-et-Garrone. Ian went last year by himself as he was here for a few a days, but this year we both went, along with our cycling neighbours. It took us just over an hour to get there on the bikes. I didn't think I'd enjoy it but I must confess I found it an entertaining and enjoyable day out.

Tractor pulling is like drag racing with tractors. The machines are purpose built, specially engineered, hot-rod, tractor- type bling-things that Ian admired!


They are hooked up to a sled with varying amounts of weight on it and have to tow this sled down a 100 metre strip. The tractor that gets the furthest is the winner and there are various categories of tractors, including a class for garden vehicles such as ride-on mowers.  The engines are mostly old aircraft engines or equivalent and when they are on full power you have to put your fingers in your ears or wear ear defenders as the noise is so loud it vibrates your whole body.

The event was well organised and had a good family atmosphere. There was a tent where you could buy sausages, chips and beer and another one selling t-shirts and toy tractors. Unlike a similar event in the UK no one was drunk and there were no police on duty (as there was no expectation of trouble and even if there had been any it would be have dealt with swiftly by the local farmers)!


All in all and enjoyable break from the grindstone. When we got back the day was finished off nicely by watching Jenson Button win the Montreal Grand Prix. Ian was much more relaxed this morning!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Continuing professional development

My work in Bordeaux has finished for the summer and I decided that a summer without speaking French would not help me at all. So, to continue with my quest for greater integration and some professional development, I contacted the local retirement home and offered my services as a volunteer. I spent a day writing my CV in French and I think it rather took them all by suprise. I will not speak too much about the details here except to say that I spent an interesting two hours talking with two new graduates from Bordeaux who work there for one day a week. By the end of the morning my head was spinning in French so all was good!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Miscellaneous

Another week flies by... This post is really a mixture of the weeks'events with no particular theme. Today it has rained most of the day, which is a real relief, as the ground was begining to look like it does in August, and water restrictions are in force.

Last Friday we delivered 95 bales of hay to someone about 60 km away. It was a long, hard day. Ian loaded the trailer the night before with the first load, we got up, drove over, unloaded, drove back, loaded again, drove over again, unloaded and then came back again. It was a long day but our second day of feeling like proper farmers.

Yesterday Ian started digging the swimming pool. We got down to the required depth fairly easily, but the logistics of digging a fairly large hole with a pretty small digger are still to be worked out completely.

I remember last year saying to Ian that you would have to work hard to starve here and it is never truer than now, when people's trees are brimming with cherries and things in the garden are starting ripen. In our field we have a mirabelle tree which is rather like a cross between a wild plum and a nectarine. We noticed yesterday that they had ripened and now I have a big bowl of the things waiting to be used! I must go searching for recipes!


I have also put in an order for my second lot of dog supplies. Ridgey Didge Green and Gold aka Gremlin is now 5 weeks old, growing fast and will be with us soon.



On a sadder note, one of our not so near neighbours has just lost his dog to what they think was poisoning. The vet thinks that some of the farmers are using illegal chemicals on their land and has asked for all the fields around to be tested, as this was not the only dog affected. The worries of being a dog owner!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Raptors, hay and other things

Our main task over the last week has been cutting the hay; or for my part overseeing the process! In the past we have arrived late in the summer to an overgrown field and ended up giving the hay away to the local dairy farmer who uses it to feed his cows. This year however, we have had a bit more time to appreciate our resource and start to manage it. The first thing we did was fertilize it and pray for rain. There was a little, but not really enough to get it going. However, by last week the field was as thriving as it was ever going to get this year, and ready for cutting. Our dairy farmer friend arrived with his big tractor and cut the field in a matter of hours. The sound and sight of this tractor attracted every bird of prey for miles, and at one point I counted about sixteen hovering around; diving the tractor to get the fresh grasshoppers as they lept out of the way. After the cutting, they feasted in the field for a few days on the remains of the dead wildlife until they were so full they couldn't fly! As our neighbour said, this must be where the phrase 'having a field day' came from as they gave the impression this was raptor heaven. Mostly they were buzzards, with one or two smaller hen harriers and maybe a kite or two.




A few days after the cutting our farmer friends returned to fluff the hay into piles ready for baling. (I'm sure this has a technical term but we don't know what it is). After fluffing the race was on to bale; Ian with his small tractor and a square baler and the farmer with his larger round baler. The agreement was that he could take 10 large bales in payment for cutting the field and we would keep the small bales for ourselves and to sell. All was going well until the small baler malfunctioned due to incorrect string and in the end the farmer got 12 bales and we got about 230 smaller sqaure bales. We inlisted the help of our neighbours to load the bales onto the trailer while I drove the van and we collected them all up, stacked them and covered them. We were in a hurry to get them in before the rain the following day; only the rain never came.

On the subject of bird of prey, when we were sitting eating our chocolate cake the other week there were two birds of prey circling above us which our neighbours identified as kites. They were then 'joined' by a third much bigger bird. A fight ensued and eventually the bigger bird was driven away. Our neighbours reckon the bigger bird was a short-toed eagle but if so it is a bit off its usual course as they are found more toward the Pyrennes and the mountains. However, the dry weather and shortage of food may have attracted them further East.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The weekend we get out on our bikes at last!

At last..we got out on our bikes this weekend! Ian has been too focussed on the building work to allow for a break, but this week he changed his mind and got his bike out of storage! Was it the sun, the thought of exploring, of getting fit that motivated him? No, it was an village fete with a display of ancient tractors located about 10 miles away; so too near to justify driving! He also knew that he would only be able to tempt me to come by saying we were going for a bike ride! So we had a nice day out with our neighbours. It wasn't too hot, the rain stayed away, the roads were quiet and Ian got to look at some tractors. We took sandwiches and bought some chips and beer there, which made the route home rather painful! Ian is now trying to recover from his sore rear end!

When we returned we sat on the terrace with tea and chocolate cake. The cake was an experiment, made with the first harvest from the garden; beetroot! Yes, Beetroot Chocolate fudge cake, and I have to say it was very nice, although I reduced the sugar by 50g and made a fudge topping instead of the one in the recipe. I pickled the rest of the beetroot.

So the history of the beetroot is from this:


To this:

To this: (after we had feasted!)




Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Shifting earth

Mont Blanc (the pile of white soil that has been outside our house since it was built) is now gone!


It was loaded into the dumper, moved and spread out at the back of the house to form the supporting structure for the swimming pool. Ian has been watering it in place as it really needs to pack down a bit before we put the pool in place in five weeks time, and we haven't had any significant rain for some time.

Meanwhile, Mandi the cat is getting rather upset about the fact that everytime he looks outside the view has changed!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Pigeons, boar and snakes for dinner?

So the French really do eat everything and anything! In a way it is an admirable trait as the concept is environmentally friendly and non-wasteful, but it certainly requires us to toughen up and lose our squeamishness!

Ian  returned from the farmer with a bag bulging with freshly picked cherries. It is that time of year and everyone has ripe cherry trees and can't pick them, eat them or bottle them quickly enough. He also had a bag with what looked like quail in, which he presented to me as 'dinner'. It turned out not to be quail, but four pigeons, freshly caught, killed and plucked. Apparently they are a nuisance on the farm as they eat the chicken feed, so the young ones are promptly dispatched and rather than thrown in the bin, they are prepared for the pot! We were given four because in reality, the farmer doesn't like them much! So, I asked around and Googled how to cook pigeon and ended up removing the breasts, marinating them in ginger and garlic and stir-frying them. I have to say that although they were okay  I wouldn't rush to eat them again! I attempted to make a stock from the remains but after smelling it decided against using it. However, the cat enjoyed the cooked pigeon liver!

Yesterday we went to another hunt dinner, this time in our village. Hunting is a very traditional country activity around here and whether you approve or disapprove, think it is cruel or a poor sport it has gone on in France for centuries. Unlike in the UK it has never been seen as something that rich people do just for fun, but has been a legitimate way of feeding your family, and hence everything that is killed is eaten or used in some other way. At the annual dinner a feast is prepared of the season's kill, interspersed with a few token vegetables and lots of alcohol. Unlike many of the feasts and fairs, those attending are mostly French and of the older generation. And so, it happened that we found ourselves seated next to an elderly French couple that we had not met before. He was a man of few words but she was happy to talk to us and reminded me of the French equivalent of Nora Batty. She was large and bold and definitely the boss. The lady sitting next to her was around the same age, with no teeth but that didn't stop her polishing off a huge plate of tough old wild boar steaks, cutting them skilfully with her opinel knife! I felt quite sad that my French isn't fluent enough to really communicate with them as their stories would be interesting. These are the last generation to remember the second world war. Most would have been children but, like my mother, would vividly remember the war years, when this part of France was occupied by the Germans. There is a plaque on the war memorial to the local Maire, who was taken into the woods and shot at the age of 69, and the older villagers remember the tanks being driven up and down the road outside our house. During occupation and shortly after the war food would have been scarce and hunting probably saved many from starvation. We were telling Nora Batty about our encounters with snakes. She told us that the best way to deal with the large 'coulerves' is to slit their throats; take a knife and run it down the length of their underbellies, peel the skin off, slice them up, fry them in butter and eat them! I would not like to meet her on a dark night! Formidable!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Sunday walk

The dry and warm weather continues and Ian is currently in the field trying to pull out as much ragwort as he can. We want to cut the meadow for hay (a shortage of the stuff at the moment) but it is no good for horses if it is full of ragwort, which is poisonous to them when cut and dried. Yesterday we went for a walk around the field and the orchids are out in full force.
This one is a bee orchid and there are fewer of them than the pyramid orchids, which along with the daisies make really make the field look spring like. Of course once it is grazed we will lose a lot of this, but for now it is beautiful.

The other things that are out in force are the insects. There are enormous big black bees, blue butterflies and closer to the river, we saw a few dragonflies.


The word in French for dragonfly is libellule, pronounced a bit like 'lee-bell-loo'.

After our walk through the field we headed off down a footpath in search of the old 'lavarie' or washing place. The farmer had told us that before these farms were connected to mains water people had wells for their day to day water but walked themselves and their animals down to the local washing place to water the animals and to wash their clothes! Well, we think we found it; a fair walk from the road, down through the trees and through a small meadow. The dam for the stream has long since washed away but with some imagination we could picture it! I must admit I am grateful for running water!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Introducing Gremlin

The puppies arrived yesterday. Not a big litter, so we didn't get a girl, but we have reserved a red boy. We have decided to call him Gremlin, although he will also have an official name that is a bit longer. We will pick him up in two months, but in the meantime here is a picture of him at a day old. (He will develop a red coat as he gets older). (Not that he is a child subsitute or anthing!)

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Realisations

Just back from a few days in Bordeaux. This was partly for work and partly for pleasure! I had two days of teaching but had accidently booked the wrong night in the hotel, and as I had paid for it on-line I was unable to cancel, so in the end Ian and I decided to spend a rare evening off in Bordeaux together. It was a nice evening; the weather was mild and sunny, the bars were crowded and full of young trendy people. Bordeaux centre is definately a place for young people! I also enjoyed my teaching. It had been about 6 weeks since my last visit and so I had forgotten what it was like and how much I benefit from the intellectual stimulation, even if it is only on an occasional basis. So the first realisation was that as much as I love the country life I do need the occasional trips into something more lively to keep me up to date and current and, that somewhere is only 2 hours away.

On Saturday we spent the morning trying to buy a bath and in the afternoon we paid a visit to the very pregnant Australian Cattle dog, so that we could get a feel for the breed and an idea of what we will need to do. I was not dissapointed. The dogs were smaller than I thought (a little smaller than a border collie) inquisitive, very dingo like and with personality. We did realise however, that we will need to build a secure dog pen before we get the puppy, as we will not be able to fence in the whole garden at this point. This year, all pedigree dogs must have names starting with 'G', which put paid to our plans to call it Carla. We thought about it some more and I am quite keen on the name 'Gaga' as in Lady Gaga. Ian likes the idea of teaching it to howl along to 'Bad Romance'!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Snake in the grass

Well, this snake wasn't in the grass but curled up inside the old grass topper that Ian acquired today. Our neighbour has been working on a house near Bergerac, and lying abandoned in the grass was the rusty topper and a tine harrow. The owner didn't want them anymore so Ian went up this morning to pick them up. He was showing a friend how it worked, happily spinning the blade round, when the friend noticed the metre long snake curled around the drive shaft! As we didn't want a massacre like the digger/snake incident, and as grass snakes are a declining species, we decided (or rather Ian decided, as I have a snake phobia) to persuade the snake to leave. However, here is where the plan failed as no amount of banging the topper and poking the snake, could persuade him to leave the safety of his metal home (and I can't say I blame him; I am developing a new respect for snakes!) So, now the topper is halfway down the field, next to the hedge in the hope that in the peace and quiet of the evening the snake will leave of his own accord!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Eiger vanishes!

After another day working with the digger and dumper the Eiger; the pile of earth that has blighted our view since the house was dug, has now gone! For the first time we can see the whole of the front garden and the view across the fields and slowly we look less and less like a building site.


The contents of the Igor are now spread behind the house, where the pool is to be dug. The pool arrives on the 21st June so the hole must be dug by then and we are a little short of soil in the right places. We are also  doing rain dances as we speak as we really need the ground to pack down before we start. Today we watched the storm clouds circle us but went straight past and left us high and dry! My veggie patch needs a good downpour to thrive and we are expecting a storm in the next two days.

In the meantime I decided to go for a swim!


PS: Just been old that it is The Eiger and not Igor!