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.

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!)