Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Only in France!

You just hae to love living here:-


Sunday, 19 July 2009

Volunteer apricot

Stardate 22nd April & 18th June

At the edge of my patio, right in front of my front door there is one of the concrete electricity posts, (although for how long I don’t know as EDF are removing it sometime), and between it and the concrete patio has grown a bush that I’ve tried unsuccessfully to remove over the last 2 years. It has only produced some rather boring leaves, no flowers, no autumn colour, totally boring. I can’t get at it to dig out and by the time it is in leaf, so is everything around it so spraying is out of the question.

I’d resolved this year to deal with it and it must have sensed its imminent demise because this spring it gave me some beautiful scented blossoms; which after a few weeks turned into these.

A couple of months later and I had:-

They tasted divine, I had most of them fresh but I also have a few in alcohol and a lovely large apricot flan in the freezer for when summer is only a past thought.
My next task will be to try and save it when they come to take away the concrete post!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Making Mayo

Stardate 29th April

Having chickens means that come the spring I have eggs, more eggs than I can eat just as eggs so it was time to expand my culinary repertoire to mayonnaise.

I’d been put off making it before because it seem like a real faff and I would then have egg whites left over and I really didn’t have the time to mess about making meringues. Then I found a recipe for whole egg mayonnaise made in a blender and it’s so simple.

The basic recipe is:
· 2 egg
· 2 tablespoon vinegar
· 2 cup vegetable oil
· ½ teaspoon mustard
· ¼ teaspoon salt

In a food processor or a blender wiz the eggs, mustard (either dried or ready made) and vinegar. Then with the processor running gradually add the oil. Once the oil is added it should be thick so scoop out into a lidded container store in the refrigerator. It should keep for a week.

The taste can be varied by changing the type vinegar or using lemon juice instead along with the type of mustard and oil, so lots of experimenting to be done here. Most recipes I’ve read say olive oil on it’s own is too strong for the mayo but a mixture with peanut or sunflower oil works well. I’m into using white balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard at the moment which I think gives a taste somewhere between commercial mayonnaise and salad cream.

It’s the 2-egg quantity that’s in the photograph that I made for a group meal but for myself the 2-egg quantity is rather too much for me to eat in a week so I made half quantity. This would have been fine apart from one little problem; it barely covers the rotor blades in the processor or the blender leading to me having a mayonnaise face pack while adding the oil. Good for the complexion but not so good for the kitchen walls etc.

I then recalled reading somewhere a long while back using a stick blender and its tall narrow cup to make it in. The technique here is to blend everything as per above and then blend in a little of the oil. As the mayonnaise starts to form the remaining oil can be added and will rest on top of the thicker emulsion. By slowly bringing the stick blender up you gradually incorporate all the oil. Difficult to explain but if you try it will probably become clear. It worked for me, a one-egg quantity of mayo without needing to wash the walls and a lot less to wash up afterwards too.

Mouse Damage

Stardate 22nd April

I had my early courgettes and squashes germinating on the kitchen windowsill. Obviously someone thought it was a self-serve buffet. Mice in the kitchen are a no-no so it was time to get the trap out.

5 mice later and there is no further sign of any mice. It’s sad to have to use a killer trap but 4 cats and a humane trap weren’t catching any of the mice.

Lychees And Dates

Stardate 22nd April

And what was I eating over Christmas?

It was lychees and dates.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Snowy And Cid

Stardate 20th April

Snowy and Cid have come to an understanding. Snowy is still the top cat, the matriarch, despite being a much weaker cat these days; she’s coming up to 13 and is really showing her age since her ear operation, here and here.

Cid, even though he really wants to be the top cat, being the only male cat, knows his place. There have been the occasional spats but now most of the time they tolerate each other. So imagine my surprise when I spotted this:

I took the picture really quickly as I rightly thought that it wouldn’t last long. I think the togetherness was due less to friendship bit more because neither wanted to back down from having the seat. Still it was sweet while it lasted.

The Fallen Oak

Stardate 6th April

Way back before Christmas I had an oak tree fall into my neighbour’s field. The field had already been sown with wheat and because the ground was wet it was impossible to remove the tree with out ruining the crop all round. The months passed and the wheat grew ever bigger and finally the ground began to dry out.

I’d spent ages inspecting the tree from my side of the ditch and couldn’t see where to begin on cutting up the tree. The problem was that the trunk wasn’t straight; it sort of zig-zaged and the branches were at odd angles and crossing each other. Not really the best thing to have as the first tree you ever deal with along with the first time using the petrol chainsaw.

I procrastinated for ages and then called on Regis for a second opinion. Even he refused to touch it but found a woodman who in exchange for the trunk and major branches would remove the tree. So the day after my quiche baking when I thought I would have very little to do I heard the sound of a chain saw outside and went down to help and to collect my share of the wood.

I was totally amazed at just how quickly he dealt with the tree. It did help that he after he’d cut off the side branches he took away the trunk in two pieces. Oh the joy of the correct tools for the job!

As the site was cleared I stacked my branches by the ditch and helped gather up and burn the brash that was left. I then helped the woodman load up his flatbed with his remaining wood (the pile to the right of the fire). It was then that I noticed that not only did he not have any safety gear – quite normal for rural France – he was also only wearing carpet slippers, making my steelies look a bit of overkill.

The next day was spent lobbing my branches across the ditch back onto my land and then transporting them to the back of the house. It doesn’t sound like a lot of work but oak is heavy, very heavy.

Tempus Fugit

I can’t believe it’s nearly 2 months since I last posted on the blog. So what’s up? Well firstly it was just writers block stressing over lots of little things, compounded by lots to do. So in the land of metaphors, I couldn’t see wood for trees but now there is light at the end of the tunnel :-)

I will now attempt to catch-up with what has been going on here.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

This Week I Have Been Mostly Weeding

In the blink of an eye the vegetable garden by the house has become overrun with weeds. Well to be honest they’ve been there for ages but as they grew so early the ground was far to wet to hoe. Now the decent weather is here they have gone to seed. The two main weeds on this area are groundsel and bittercress, which fires its seed as soon as you touch the plant.

Because of the number of ripe and ripening seed heads, hoeing was out of the question along with rotorvating. Hand weeding I decided was the best option, to try and remove as many seed heads as possible. It is taking ages but hopefully it will be worth it by reducing the number of plants I will have to deal with for the rest of the year.

Each 30m row takes about 2 hours to do but having done each bit and seeing the clear row is very rewarding. I’m about halfway down or to put it in a more positive light I’m half finished.

Here’s a picture to show all’s well with the world today.

Snowy is also back to her supervisor self. She eventually decided that the comfort of her chair and umbrella (as shown here) would be better but it’s so nice to have her behaving ‘normally’ again.

This week I’ve also blown a few eggs.

They are either for Christmas decorations or next Easter, as I’ve no chance of doing anything with them before next weekend. Doing them now made sense, at least at the time. I had the eggs and I wanted to make a couple of quiches for summer picnics. One useful thing about having the alpacas is that I have various syringes and needles that proved very useful. Having blown the eggs, I gave them a wash in a dilute bleach solution and using the syringe I was able to inject the solution into the eggs and wash the insides too.

Friday, 3 April 2009


Way back last year during one of my Internet trawls I came across Kefir (information here) and was able to find someone who would send me some kefir grains. I had a go at producing some kefir but kept forgetting about it, eventually forgetting about the last batch I was making and it spent the winter in the back of my refrigerator.

I dug the mix out a month or so ago and to my surprise the kefir wasn’t rancid, just a bit over sour. Well I say a bit, that really should say a lot sour. I ditched the liquid and spent a couple of weeks refreshing the grains in water to try and clear the curdled smell. This was quite successful so I then started using the grains again with milk. It took about a week but the grains recovered and are now producing wonderful kefir again.

It really is so easy to produce; I strain the grains out of the kefir liquid each morning, rinse the jar, replace the grains in the jar and top up with milk again. All I have to do then is leave the jar on the work-surface and repeat the process the following day. I now have a very cheap supply of probiotic yoghurt.

Today’s treat was to have it on cereal instead of just drinking it. It has a slightly sharp taste but I find it a very pleasant one.

I got my grains via a kefir exchange site – I just did an Internet search – and also found this site, which has a wealth of information.

One of my friends here is very dairy intolerant and we are going to have a go at converting the grains to soya milk grains so she can have a soya probiotic.

Does anyone else use kefir grains?

Snowy Update

Many thanks to everyone for their thoughts about Snowy. I'm really pleased to say that she's back to her meowy self and following me around and getting under my feet again.

She's still a bit frail but then she is coming up to 14 and the operation to remove the cancer from her ear did seem to age her quite a bit but she still defends her position as top cat so I think all is well.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Cat Worries

Above is a picture of Snowy on her chair on Monday. She’s my oldest cat at 13.5 years and is beginning to show signs of her age. She’s still totally convinced I’m her human but she does spend a little more time these days sleeping. When she’s not sleeping, she is under my feet if I’m working outside, or sitting on the mouse or keyboard if I’m on the computer.

Tuesday though she decided to sleep for most of the day and when I got back from my French lesson she came to say hello and then went off again to sleep.

After my lesson on Wednesday I spent the afternoon keeping a close eye on her. She was only nibbling at food and when she didn’t come near the computer or sleep on the couch by me in front of the fire I knew something really wasn’t right.

So this morning it was off to the vets and the poor dear was running a temperature; it should have been between 38 and 39°C but she was at 40°C. She has a respiratory infection so along with the temperature she was finding breathing hard work.

One injection of antibiotics latter and we were on the way home; by the time we were back, after about 10 mins, she was meowing at me and as soon as we got in she demanded food.

I then went out to help Ann in the plum orchard, picking up the last of the firewood and by the time I came back she was a changed cat. She was sitting at the door waiting for me to come in and then demanded more food. She’s following me around, her fur feels smooth and silky again and she’s her chatty self and sitting on the keyboard again.

I can’t get over just how quickly she’s improved but I am just so happy that she has. I still have to try and get one and a half tablets down her throat each day for the next week to complete her antibiotics course but it will be worth it. Now where did I put all my plasters, I think I’m going to need them as Snowy hates taking tablets.

Friday, 20 March 2009

A Little Maintenance

I’ve come to the conclusion that plans are never meant to run smoothly; take today for instance, it was marked as the day to break up the soil in the five-hectare field. To do this I have what I believe the French call a ‘herse a peigne de vibro’ – a vibrating comb harrow.

The problems started yesterday. I decided that as I was unlikely to use the plough for a while, I’d clean it and than put it back in the storage area and hitch up the harrow. Sounds pretty easy and usually it is; however this time I managed to put it somewhere uneven and it twisted as I tried to unhitch it. It twisted so much that I couldn’t re-hitch it; everything I tried just made matters worse.

Thankfully Regis was at his place and he agreed to come round after he’d finished work and help me sort it out. This he did; it’s amazing how more useful it is to be in two places at once. Between me moving the tractor and raising and lowering the linkage and Regis pushing and placing the props for the plough we got it straight and unhitched.

Regis then took the harrow out to check the ground was ready to work, which after the wonderful weather we’ve had for the last few weeks, it was. He then checked over the harrow and pointed out that a lot of the tines were worn and needed replacing. All my farming equipment is second (at least) hand.

I thought I would have to replace the whole of the spring tine totally forgetting that farming can be quite green in many ways. Replace, reuse, repair, they are the bye words in farming, at least with older equipment. Each of the tines is fitted with a shoe that can be replaced when worn and even better, these shoes are reversible.

So instead of being out on the field today I’m reversing or changing shoes. I thought that it wouldn’t take too long but…

I do think I was a bit naive setting about this with only a spanner. After an hour and quite a few bruises I gave up and set off for the local farm suppliers where I finally bought
that decent socket set I’ve been promising myself and while I was there, a decent pipe wrench too. Oh what a difference, a little leverage goes a long way.

P.S. I’m covered in grease, I ache, I’m bruised and cut and over 100€ poorer after buying tools and parts, but all 30 shoes have either been reversed or replaced and I feel really chuffed with myself. Time for a sog in front of the TV :-)

Monday, 16 March 2009

Writers Block

I’m really glad I don’t make my living from writing as it seems to be getting longer and longer between posts, so much so that C and S telephoned to check I was OK – many thanks for that you two :-) As ever, lots of reasons and the only one not true is that there is being nothing to do.

Losing the alpacas knocked my confidence rather hard, triggering a couple of panic attacks and a couple of other stress related things, one of the symptoms being finding it very difficult to concentrate and therefore work out what to write but that all seems under control now.

Other than that I’ve embarked on French lessons. I have two 3-hour lessons a week with half an hour travelling time each way so I effectively ‘lose’ a day from the week. These lessons are provided by the French government to help me integrate and set up my business. I’m only on the scheme very tentatively and expect to be asked to leave every week but until then I’m making the most of them. They are really good. One lesson covers French life, such as the intricacies of the French health system and which health department you register with depending on what type of work you are doing that month. The other lesson covers French language – this is the one I find really difficult as I moved schools frequently in my youth and was never taught English grammar so trying to get my head round French grammar is nigh on impossible.

I’ve also been working on the vegetable patch and been starting some seeds. The house looks more like a greenhouse at the moment so I hope the weather doesn’t take a turn for the worse, as I will need to get the seedlings outside soon, but I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to get the guy back to check out the vegetable plot and therefore be able to finally get my health insurance.

So that’s a quick update and I do hope to expand on some of the things I’ve been doing over the rest of the month.

Monday, 2 March 2009

A Bit More Ploughing

Back before Christmas I ploughed most of the 5 hectare field but as it was my first attempt at ploughing I did have a bit of a problem in places. I just couldn't get the plough shears to dig into the ground, resulting in them just scraping the top of the soil. This occurred over quite a large area and then as quickly as it started, it stopped and the rest of the field ploughed correctly.

The result of this surface scraping is that the grass just grew back over winter. So I've been out re-ploughing the badly ploughed area which has been interesting. I've just about got the hang of starting on one side of the field and working across but I don't have the time to re-plough the whole field so I just ploughed the grassed areas.

This is the view of some of the grass. I'd ploughed the left-hand section first as it was the worst area and rain was forecast. As it was, the rain didn't happen and I have been able to go over the whole area

All I have left to do now is finish the strip round the edge of the field and that's probably about another 4 trips round. I still haven't worked out how to do the corners properly yet but I think I've an idea from a bit of trial and error. I think it involves ploughing the outer line in one direction and the inner rows in the opposite direction.

There is a very great difference between ploughing here and the UK. Whenever I watched people ploughing in the UK there was always a large flock of seagulls following the plough. Here I don't get seagulls but I usually have half a dozen or so wagtails darting about. They're black and white but not the same as the pied wagtails in the UK. Apologies for the not very good photograph but they are rather small and flew away whenever the tractor approached.

Monday, 23 February 2009

An Eggcellent Day

For the first time since I've been in France, all the chicken have laid an egg on the same day! The three original Lacey Ladies used the nest in the hay bale while the other 3 hens each used different places so I was also able to identify each egg.

From left to right, the first three are the original Lacey Ladies, next is the white Sussex, the penultimate one is from the pullet from last years hatching and finally it's the Phoenix bantam.

Hatching Potatoes

Hazel will sleep just about anywhere. She sat up when she heard me switch on the camera

Saturday, 21 February 2009


Not only was yesterday my daughter’s birthday but it also marked the start of my third year here. I can’t believe how fast time can pass, two years working on the farm I can cope with but my little girl now able to apply for a driving licence; that’s just unbelievable.

Another notable event of yesterday was that I now have for the first time since I moved in reasonable telephone and Internet connection. I’ve been more or less unable to keep an Internet connection for more than 10 minutes lately and once lost it often wouldn’t let me connect again for a few hours. I was beginning to think it was the modem playing up but telephoned France telecom anyway to report that I could barely hear people on the ‘phone line due to the crackling.

Yet again they said there was a fault and that they would have an engineer out to look at the line in the next 48 hours. The deadline passed and there was no change in the line – I didn’t really expect there to be, anyone living in France will tell you the same. But then, yesterday while I was working outside I spotted a telecom van moving post, to post towards the house. As they approached I could see they were replacing the line up to my house.

Back in the mists of time during an earlier problem with the line an engineer had been sent out and he’d told me my line needed replacing but nothing was done and I let it drop as I did get a connection again. But this time they changed it – I was really surprised as there is over half a kilometre of line that is solely used for me.

All of a sudden I have a stable Internet connection and a telephone line with practically no background noise. I’m over the moon.

Confit of Duck

While I’ve been unable to surf I decided it was time to have a go at making confit, after all I’ve been here two years so I really should have a go. I was also encouraged by there being a really good offer on duck at the supermarket.

I decided to buy the manchons (the upper bit of the wings) and the cuisse (the legs). The manchons were very cheap, 2€60 a kilogramme so I had a go with those first.

The idea is to partially preserve the duck by salting and then to poach the duck in duck fat until it is succulent.

So part one was to sprinkle them with sea salt and fresh bay leaves and ground pepper. They were then left in the refrigerator for 24 hours. They were then rinsed to remove the salt and dried. Being the lazy type, I didn’t fancy standing over the stove for a few hours so I placed them in the slow cooker.

I then covered them in melted duck fat and left them overnight on low to gently stew.

Once cooked to tender, or in my case, until falling off the bone, they were left to cool for an hour and then carefully packed into sterilised canning jars and covered with the cooking juice and fat. I then processed them for a while to ensure a vacuum seal.

There were of course a couple of bits left over and I know I’m a bit biased but they were delicious.

The Vegetable Field

I’m another step closer to getting into the healthcare system. Over the last couple of days I’ve been able to work the area of land I’m going to use this year for the vegetables.

For those who don’t know about my healthcare problem, in order to pay into the system and therefore be covered, I need 11.5 hectares of land. I have 11.33 and there is no land available close by that I could afford to purchase. The French way round this is for me to cultivate an area of land for vegetables. This area of land has a weighting of 3; so if I for instance cultivate .33 hectare, I end up with a nominal land tally of 12 hectares – 11.33 – 0.33 = 11, the 0.33 becomes 0.33 x3 = .99 – call it 1 hectare, 11 + 1 = 12, over the magic number of 11.5 and I can get health care.

Last year I attempted to cultivate an area only to see it disappear under water and become unworkable until mid year, far to late to do anything. This year I’ve taken an area of my cereal field, (last year it was already planted with wheat but this year I’m sowing sunflower in a couple of months so it was still fallow).

So this is the lower half of the area; I’m using an 8-bed rotation, potatoes, squash, root, beans, tomatoes, cabbage, everything else, and the two yellow markers nearest mark the top of bed 4. In the distance is a single marker that marks the far corner of the area, which is 60 m by 30 m, which is only .18 of a hectare but it’s about all I think I can manage and it just takes me over the magic 11.5.

Monday, 16 February 2009

I just had to post this picture of the sunset tonight, it was just so beautiful.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Dried Eggs

While I’ve not been able to post for a bit due to my Internet connection giving up the ghost – I do wonder if France Telecom/Orange France will ever be able to provide anything like the service I had in the UK – I luckily had looked on the web earlier for information about drying eggs. So unable to waste time surfing I set about putting what I’d learnt into practice.

I decided to start with 5 eggs; the idea being to get a thin layer in the dehydrator otherwise it takes too long to dry the egg. As it is, the tiers in my dehydrator are slightly tilted so the egg at the outer edge was deeper than the inside edge.

The eggs were beaten well and then poured onto the lightly greased tray. They were then dried for a bit over 5 hours at the highest setting, around 60°C. One of the posts I read said that this heat and time were essential as this in effect pasteurised the egg as well as drying it.

Because of the difference in thickness across the tray I set the original time to 4 hours and then stirred the mix, then continued dehydrating until all the egg was dry.

Once all the egg had dried I then ground the egg to a powder in an electric grinder and transferred the resulting powder to an airtight jar for storage.

Other ways described to store the egg is in the freezer, vacuum-sealed or in zip lock bags. Once I’ve got my Internet connection back I’m going to do some more research into the storage but for the moment the jar is going to live in the fridge.

To reconstitute the egg, it’s one tablespoon of dried egg to one tablespoon of water and that’s equivalent to one egg that can be used for cakes, omelettes or scrambled eggs. The next job is to try it out.

The Woodland - Phase 2

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and having just signed up again for the chasse meal – gosh the year has passed fast – I thought I had better do some work. I know way back I decided to try and take time out on Sundays but at this time of the year there is just so much to do.

I’d already sorted out the trees required for the first two rows and combined with the ploughed ground it only took a couple of hours to plant the two rows. It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon out in the fresh air and sunshine.

While moving some of the hazel trees I noticed that along with the wonderful catkins there were also the female flowers; so tiny that you could easily miss them, it's the little red blob on the left of the stem.

Returning to the chasse dinner I've just read this version from Living the Dream, just to give another viewpoint - I love the bambi and babe idea.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

A Red Letter Day

Today was the day the alpacas moved into their new paddock. Ann came over to help and see them go in – she has been wonderful in helping me to finish all the fencing; I couldn’t have got all of it fixed as tightly or as quickly without her. And I’ve not forgotten all the help G, M & C gave with the posts last summer; thanks guys.

Dragging buckets of water over there is going to be a bit of a drain so that should spur me on to finish the roofing of the shelter and install a rainwater collection system there.

Moving the alpacas was nearly thwarted by the rain; yes folks yet more rain. Nothing torrential but just a few millimetres every day or so and seven millimetres last night just for good measure. Reversing the trailer became impossible, it just skated over the mud but by going round the block I eventually got into a position where we could load them up and take them over to the field. Once there they couldn’t believe their eyes, grass and space, it was then heads down and munch away.

Having got them into the field, Ann and I decided it was time for a celebratory tea. I mentioned that since finding the nests where the chickens had laid the last lot of eggs, they’d moved and I’d not had any eggs for 3 days. While I boiled the kettle Ann went for a hunt around and finally found the last few days haul. They were hidden away in the bottom of an old straw bale. Only one of the chicken is using the nest boxes I made. I don’t think my animals appreciate my carpentry skills; the alpacas never went into the previous shelter I built them.

I now have a mini glut of eggs so I’m thinking about trying to dry some as a method of preserving them for next winter.


The bucket contains rainwater just the same as their bowl, but this has added dirt.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Update For First Week in February

This week has thankfully been a bit less traumatic, I’m still waiting for the results of the autopsy on Theo (autopsy is used for animals here in France) but Leah visited on Thursday and has given me some general pointers. So the alpacas will be out in their field as soon as possible and a couple of them need a tooth trim. The hay is not bad but not good either. I cut it a bit late because of the wet weather last year and that means it’s not as rich as early cut hay. No one round here got any early cut hay, but hopefully this year will be better and I’m aiming for a cut in May.

There have been chicken things too this week. Sadly sick-chick finally succumbed to whatever was here problem. She was the one who had the three maggot attacks last year. She seemed happy enough but never really recovered. Over the last few days of her life I noticed her tail was down quite a bit and an extra dose of wormer didn’t do the trick this time.

Egg-wise, I was really chuffed when the hens started laying after the shortest day but they stopped after the storm. I was a bit miffed at this as I was just getting back into the swing of having plenty of fresh eggs. Then on Thursday I noticed that the young hen was missing when I was feeding them and I wondered if a fox had been round. I carried on working round the house and then just in the time it took to turn round I noticed another of the hens had gone missing and not a fox in sight.

I then spotted her under a log stack that sent me looking for the other hen. I eventually spotted her under the branches of the felled tree round the back of the house. Once they were both out and about again I checked the two spots and was rewarded by 2 eggs under the logs and 13 under the branches. They’ve only been laying outside for a week so I quickly gathered the egg and took them inside to test them in a bowl of water. All of them sat at the bottom of the bowl, so eggs are back on the menu here.

On Wednesday I noticed a group of cranes flying over, four weeks earlier than last year. Well I think they are earlier, it might just be that I’m outside earlier than last year and so able to see them. Still it’s another harbinger of spring along with the first of my crocuses flowering. They are a little late but since I only put them in the ground Oct/Nov I think they’ve done really well. I’m now waiting for the snowdrops but they might take until next year to flower.

Bafta Night

It's February again and that means it's Bafta time again, so it's a TV night for me tonight watching on the BBC and reminiscing. I was lucky enough to be 'live' at the Bafta's one year, all be it one of the lesser people with a press pass. Even so the buzz was tremendous and the free food wonderful! Funny how my memories of show business revolve around food, I was also an extra and again the food was great.

Show business, you just can't beat it.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Fire and Floods

Thankfully not here but I wanted to send my love and prayers to my Australian readers. From floods in the north at the beginning of the year to the lethal fires that are now ravaging the south. I truly hope that the weather settles down and that you are all safe.

As a footnote, if Ann (Lisle-) Smith or anyone who knows her reads this could she please contact me via the blog as I no longer have your address.

Should say that the last address I have is Palymra but I think she was then near Sydney but moved from there a couple of years ago.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Oh What A Week

Suffice to say this has been a tough week. I was very lucky in respect of the storm damage here but at the start of the week, I had another alpaca die. Totally different symptoms to the others but sadly the same outcome. I am now at my wits end trying to find out why this is happening and why my alpacas will not put on any weight.

I have been through many reasons and have been told many conflicting 'solutions'. Loosing my beautiful Theo so soon after Ashan has knocked my self confidence greatly.

Since the vets here have no idea as to what has killed them, I've arranged for an autopsy on Theo and am now awaiting the results of that. Robin at Utopian alpacas has been really helpful again; we've been through possible causes and our current thought is liver fluke, although why he should have got it when the others have been here for longer is something we haven't' a reason for. Until the results come back though it's all speculation.

Robin has also put me in touch with an alpaca breeder, Leah, who lives about an hour north of here. She has very kindly agreed to come down next week to go through things with me and see if there is something I am doing that is wrong, to look at the land and to look at the hay. Local farmers have said the hay is fine but their experience is with cattle so maybe...

Tonight though I'm suffering from backache; I've spent most of the day helping a neighbouring farmer in his orchards. He had around 900 trees blown over in the storm and the local farmers have been working on his property for the last couple of days.

Yesterday I made a couple of chewy chocolate cakes for the communal meal this lunchtime while this morning found me in the orchard with about 20 other farmers. Everything was in swing. There was a group collecting and distributing 6 ft log posts to each prostrate tree, then the next group of 3 or four would move down the rows with a bucket-less digger. The digger arm was used to press the post 3-3.5 ft into the ground and then they moved on. After them came another ground with a digger (because they are tracked they coped better on the land which is totally saturated), a strap was placed round the tree and it was hauled back to vertical and then strapped to the post.

After that the tree was heavily pruned and then came me, along with Ann and another friend, N, and our job was dragging all the branches to the middle of the track-ways so they could be bulldozed out of the way.

It was interesting again that none of the French wives worked in the orchard, their job was to prepare the mid-day lunch, it's still quite sexist here. Being single and a farmer I think I honorary male, especially after I did the tractor run to the plum drying cooperative back in the summer

Part way through the morning we had a visitation, the Conseil General - the department's general council - arrived along with their official photographer, the local mayor and photographers and reporters from 2 regional papers.

Lunch tile came and about 30 of us sat down for lunch at the village hall and in typical French fashion it was simple and yet a feast at the same time. A vegetable based soup that was delicious made by one of the men from the village as his contribution as he was unable to help in the orchard due to having his knee smashed by a kicking cow.

Then there was grated carrot and macadonie (mixed veg) served cols but mixed with vinaigrette, surrounded by quartered hard boiled eggs. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the body, oh and there was home-made mayonnaise too.

After that the main course was roast pork and creamed potatoes. I dread to think what the calorific value of the potatoes might have been, I know that they contained butter, milk and creme fraiche. Delicious.

Then came the lettuce with an enormous platter of cheeses and after that the dessert accompanied the coffee.

After that it was back to the orchard for another hour or so before I had to leave to do my chores here. I have to say there is something really heart-warming seeing how so many people here are turning out to help their neighbours. There is still community spirit, one of the reasons I wanted to move here.

Looking at the amount of work that is building up here, I think I'm only going to be blogging once a week, partly because a lot of the work is going to be very repetitive and partly because I think I'm going to be rather tired by the end of the day and I need to use what time I have for research.

As I'm probably not going to be blogging tomorrow, Happy Imbolic to those who celebrate it.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

A Few More Pictures

By 5:30 pm, the wind had dropped quite a bit so I ventured outside to have a look a little further away from the house and to round up the escaping plant pots etc.

Down by the pond a quick look at the tedder left me thankful that poplar isn't a particularly heavy wood or a tree that produces lots of heavy branches. I think once I remove the tree the tedder will be fine. The ground is very wet there and consequently soft so I'm hopeful that the damage to the tedder will be minimal.

Keeping well away from or at least up wind from any trees I wandered round the field above the pond. Three small trees/bushes have had largish branches snapped off so I'll need to clear them next week too if possible.

This picture shows the two poplars from above the pond and also gives a good view of the oak that came down before Christmas. I need to clear that sometime too but as it's on my neighbours land I have to be very careful to pick my time so as to not damage his wheat crop in the field.

Coming down the other side of the field from the pond this run off from the neighbour's field is heading for the pond but gives an idea of the amount of rain we've had over the last couple of days. There's more rain forecast over the next couple of days, some torrential so I don't know when the roof will be fixed but the winds which were the strongest recorded in this area, have gone.

Oh and all the chickens made it back safely too, and my red shoes are staying very firmly in the shoe rack.

And The Wind Did Blow

And blow, and blow, plus another 20.5 mm of rain to add to the 39 from yesterday. Added to which the power went out at around 8 am but was back on at 2 pm – I was battening down for the day without electricity as the winds haven’t let up so there must be some pretty tired people out there battling away to restore the power.

Link to BBC report here.

Last night we were just on orange alert but it’s been upgraded to red alert this morning – now I’ve got onto the computer. Apart from the wind coming in off a depression in the Atlantic, there is another depression coming down from the north and that is bringing much colder weather so possible snow flurries and ice.

The farm has taken some damage; on the windw
ard side roof tiles have been lifted so rain is pouring into the rear storage area. I’m hoping that it won’t get much worse or it might start to affect the lived in part of the building. It’s far too windy to risk going up to try and fix the roof.

Down by the pond I have 3 young poplars that I thought would be fine. Wrong; when I looked out this morning, one of them had snapped and by lunchtime a second had also snapped and looks like it’s fallen onto my tedder, which is stored down there. I’m really glad I wasn’t tempted to go and look at the damage after the first tree came down and yet again I’m so glad that the 3 over large and rotten poplars round the house are down.

Elsewhere, the large plastic patio table has had the centre section broken – I tried removing the parasol but the base has swollen into the holder and everything was just too heavy for me to do anything about. I do now realise why wooden furniture is so popular here.

One of my wild cherry trees has also taken a battering; it’s not that tall so I was a bit surprised to see it leaning but the ground is so waterlogged, I guess it just couldn’t hold on well enough.

The chickens stayed in when I opened up this morning but when I went to give them their grain at lunchtime some of them decided to venture out – or rather ran past me. So I hope they are feeling strong or goodness knows where they will end up. The roof of their hut is also taking a battering and I’ve had to weight it down with more bricks. So still here at the moment and waiting to see what the rest of the day brings.