Friday, 7 March 2008

Long Time, No Blog

Gosh it’s been four days since I last posted; this week has rather raced by but sadly not much has been done. By Tuesday morning I was just exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep, lethargy and lack of motivation ruled the day. I thought that I was heading for another bout of depression, but I was wrong and thankfully it was only a head cold.

Still a couple of days on ‘animals only’ duty saw me able to partake of my usual Thursday morning work in Regis’s orchard. It’s not fair! As fast as Ann and I clear up the wood, Regis is pruning more. That will have to stop soon as the trees now starting to flower. So we’ve still to start on cutting our oak for next year’s fires.

Back here I’ve taken advantage of the dry day today to finish chain sawing the branches I’ve cut from the trees. They need serping tomorrow and then stacking to dry.

I’ve also started clearing out the alpaca paddock. Over the winter, I’ve been throwing the hay they didn’t want to eat onto the ground to counteract the mud when it rained. Now that hay layer is stopping any grass from growing so it has to go. I’ve managed to fork out two large heaps of it and burnt them today as not only was it dry but there was no wind either. This was taken when I was about half way through burning the first heap and half way through collecting together the second heap. I love fires but do try to keep them small – the old adage is true, Fire is a good slave, but a bad master.

All in all, I spent most of the afternoon with the alpacas. Beside their usual day-to-day care, feeding, checking water and refilling the hay byre, it was medication time. I’m still concerned about Silver, the black female since she is still underweight. A plus bit about not being well was that I spent a good deal of time on the computer looking up what I’d been given for them against the coccidiosis. Some of the stuff seems to be only available in France or Eastern Europe so it was difficult to know if it would work. It wasn’t helped by many of the French websites belonging to the multinationals just not working. The UK or USA parts did, but the French parts didn’t. I could go off on a rant about French web sites here but wont, suffice to say it didn’t surprise me.

The ‘Imena L’ I’d been given to kill the worms and as I also believed the coccidiosis is just a simple wormer and probably does the same as the ‘Dectomec’ they have as part of their health regime (plus cider vinegar in the drinking water). The ‘Trisulmix’, which I though was just an antibiotic to get them over any infection from when they were in a weakened state, turns out to be the thing against the coccidiosis. This does highlight one of the disadvantages of not being able to fully understand the language. I only understand some of it and I get told a simplified version to help me understand. If I hadn’t spent some time searching, I wouldn’t have known that coccidia isn’t a worm but a single celled parasite. Hopefully after this second treatment the alpacas auto-immune systems will be able to deal with it. I then need to do a lot more reading about prevention that doesn’t involve long-term antibiotic use. I’ve found one product, Corid V, but have yet to find out what its chemical make up is.

So today was day one of a five day treatment. They were really good standing still after I’d caught them. The CamalidDynamics course I did has shown real results, but getting them to drink the solution….. even though I was using a syringe I ended up wearing quite a bit of it myself.

There has been some rain over the last week and apparently a snowstorm. I say apparently as I slept through it in Tuesday afternoon. When I went out to collect the eggs I could see lumps of ice in the grass and thought we’d had a hailstorm, but I’ve since been told it had snowed. The rain has been just what the wheat wanted and it has put on quite a spurt. The picture is a bit dark as it was taken after sunset – thank goodness for photo manipulation.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Pink Snow

The weather here isn’t supposed to get cold until tomorrow but when I looked out this morning it looked like pink show had fallen. The multitudes of insects that have been buzzing around the blossom tree have obviously done their job and the tree is now deluging petal with the slightest breeze.

Coming back from the meal yesterday I realise my neighbour had been busy over the afternoon. The first thing I saw was the only tree on the side of the drive was no more.

Down by the alpacas another 5 have been felled too. It’s sad to see them go although it does let more light onto my field. What’s sadder is that over large lengths of the ditches, no replacement trees are growing, I think because the ditches are either sprayed with weed killer or mechanically cut to manage the weed growth rather than a manual approach that would enable saplings to be spared. It make me feel really good about planting a new piece of woodland and I will be seeking out any saplings on my side of the ditch that I can leave for future generations.

Also peaking through the pink snow I spotted my lily of the valley poking through the ground. It will be interesting to see if they too flower earlier than their tradition date of the 1st May.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Chasse Dinner

Hunting can be an emotive topic; different people see it in different ways. I personally don’t like the idea of hunting with pack hounds or hunting just for the ‘thrill of the kill’ to be able to say you’ve killed X brace that you have no intention of eating.

Hunting is ingrained in France. Every Sunday I can watch the hunters striding across the fields round here, looking for something for the pot or to freeze away for later. That I can accept, I am an omnivore and I’d rather eat rabbit that has had a natural life than a chicken that’s been raised in a battery farm.

When I came to France I had the belief that since they shot and ate everything that moved here, there would be no wild life. Anyone living here will tell you the opposite is true. This is partly because when the huntsmen get out of their little white vans, they spend the next 20 minutes yelling at their dogs to try and control them. Just about all of the wildlife in the surrounding area has been alerted to their presence and gone to ground. The huntsmen then spend the next couple of hours ‘working’ the dogs along the hedges and ditches, hoping to spring a hare or partridge. Working is in quotes as the dogs usually do what they want and are far to far ahead to be of any use. Still the men and dogs get a good walk out of it. On top of that, the French guard their game and they all seem to have a small wood somewhere that supports the wildlife.

Occasionally the local hunt group is called out to deal with a problem. Here it’s either Roe Deer or Wild Boar. Both can cause a lot of damage to crops if they are left unchecked and neither have a natural predator apart from man. That said, I have seen far more deer (and hares and birds of prey etc) here than I did in the countryside back in the UK, and my neighbour saw a wild boar family in the local woods only last week.

All of which brings me back to the title, the Chasse dinner. Today was the day of their annual repas and in usual fashion for here it was bring your own crockery and cutlery and settle down for the afternoon. The Expat group arrived fashionable late, well only half an hour as we knew it wouldn’t start until at least an hour after the stated start time. We took our seats at 12:30, we finally rose again at nearly 19:00!

The meal was superb:

  • It started with an aperitif
  • next came soup – a consomm√© with sago, it did look a bit like frogspawn but it tasted divine
  • following that we were treated to a piece of salmon poached in a champagne and cream sauce
  • and the final starter was venison cooked in red wine sauce
  • to make way for the main courses we had a ‘trou Gascon’, to make a ‘hole’ so we could eat more. This was basically a small amount of eau de vie (fire water) with a little sorbet in it. It did the job and ate it’s way through.
  • then the first part of the main course, venison roasted over the massive log fires that had been lit in the car park. Seconds and thirds came round too.
  • the venison was followed by roasted boar and as with the venison there were thirds of that as well.
  • all this was accompanied by red and white wine from the nearby domaine of Cotes de Duras
  • after everyone had had their fill of venison and boar there was brie and salade (salade is lettuce only here in France)
  • now we were into the home stretch and it was desert. Someone in the group described this as the French take on trifle. It was two layers of really light sponge sandwiched together with vanilla custard with fruit salad in the custard layer.
  • next up was a digestif of a fizzy wine
  • and to round it all off a coffee
All that cost an amazing 18€ (around £15) only. A wonderful time was had by all and somehow I’ve got roped into playing boules on the 16th. It’s foreigners versus the French. As none of us Expats have played before I think it’s going to be a bit of a foregone conclusion as to who will win. But then it’s not the wining that counts; it’s the taking part.