Evie Versus the Chickens

 

 

I thought I’d give you a little update on Evie versus the chickens! We think we’ve worked out an almost perfect solution, and it’s really thanks to all of you; for I did indeed listen, and I read all your comments, I took everything in and we built a fence. Something simple, yet splendidly fulfilling in its execution, for a variety of reasons. Read more

MUD MONTH & OLD FRENCH HOUSES

Perhaps we have to endure the wind and the rain and all that winter can throw at us in order for us to enjoy the spring and the summer?

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We have been attempting to forecast the weather since the beginning of recorded history. Long before the invention of radar and other meteorological tools, people relied upon nature to give them a clue as to what the weather would bring.

“Is it going to be sunny today?” – “Maybe”

“Is it going to rain today?” – “Probably”

“Why does it have to rain?” – “Because we need the rain”

“Can you get some strawberries when you go shopping today?” – “No, it’s winter!”

These are the same questions I get asked every week by our two smallest people at varying stages of the day; the weather-related ones usually arise as I am trying to get the two teenagers out of the door for school, put on my coat, pick up Evie to take with me, find my phone, grab an umbrella and remind the same two little ones that if it should be fine they are walking home.

I answer on auto-pilot, “It’s winter.”

But don’t get me wrong, much as I hate winter, I also love winter – not for itself as I can’t pretend to love the bare trees and dormant garden or the quiet streets where not a soul can be seen, and nor can I pretend to adore the empty markets when all that is on offer never seems to change: winter greens, potatoes and carrots. No, what I like about winter is the promise it offers of spring and summer; for surely winter is just the prelude to the months that I love so much? If we did not go through winter we would not revel in the first cherries, the first meal taken outside, and spring and summer would become normal rather than ‘special’. So I have come to an agreement with winter, I’m ok with it.

December was gorgeous, December was one long Indian Summer; but then December is always good no matter what the weather, it’s a festive month. January normally starts with a bang but fades into insignificance, which this year has been a very wet and soggy insignificance. This year February is continuing in the same vein with severe gales added into the mixture to spice things up a little. I am reminded of the ancient proverb “If in February there is no rain, ’tis neither good for hay nor grain.” I of all people, as a farmer’s daughter, should understand the importance of rain, so long as it rains at the right time of year.

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The past week 105 kph winds battered our coast. The garden looked like a war-zone with scattered branches littering the lawn and I was staring out at the sodden landscape whilst cleaning up after breakfast when the rain commenced again; not a gentle drizzle but a torrential downpour that saw the terrace turn into a river before my eyes. At the bottom of the kitchen window where the two sides join in the middle is the most tiny gap and in through that gap water suddenly came streaming in as if someone had opened a tap. Water poured around the sink and was soon pooling all over the counter and down the front beside the dishwasher. Grabbing tea-towels I stuffed them as hard as I could against the tiny hole and then as quickly as it had started the rain ceased and the water stopped. Another job for Roddy to do, and another reminder about living in old houses. Why this had never happened before and why it should start now we had no idea, but there is never a sensible solution, it just happened and that’s life here in an old farmhouse!

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The truth about living in an old house built in 1790 is we live with it ‘day to day’. The windows and doors can be draughty, but I’d rather live with the draughts than lose the house’s character. Nothing is truly straight, walls slant this way and that; there are no perfect right angles, the roof slopes, the beams are bowed and cracked, but the very same things that can sometimes be irritating are also part of the charm. Our property hides a wealth of old features that have become so commonplace we don’t even notice them. Our barn for instance has this ladder with which to climb to the attic above; it’s easily as old as the house, but it’s sturdy and it works and we have no idea what the numbers signify.

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Frequently things need fixing. The older the house, the more opportunity for things to go wrong; but no matter the inconveniences, no matter the hardships, living in an ancient farmhouse is a privilege. Certainly the best balance is to combine charming period features with modern amenities, but we must restore sympathetically; we cannot seal up every hole and crack for the house must be able to breath. We have to treat it as a living creature, as it has stood for centuries and will no doubt still be standing long after our lifetime; in effect it is an honor to live here. The other day I passed this centuries-old farm which is for sale, complete with barns, lots of land and amazing views. I would arrange to go and have a look but I would hate to waste the time of what I am sure are elderly owners, so we will have to be content with a little day dreaming from the outside.

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I wish I could move this old stone trough. It stands in the corner of the grange attached to our house which we call the ‘boot-room’. Unused and quite unnoticed by all, it even has drainage; perhaps this is where previous inhabitants used to wash in times gone by? Or is it something as mundane as a horse trough?

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Living in an old house might change your life; it will certainly change your perspective.

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A major preoccupation of house-owners in France is the heating. In virtually every old home you go into the fireplace will be a feature. It can be an open-fire with logs crackling in the hearth, flickering flames licking at the grate and the mellow fragrance of burning wood filling the air, or it can be a wood-burner, safer and easier to keep alight throughout the day. Either way there is nothing better nor more inviting when you’re coming back from a walk than seeing the smoke gently coming out of the chimney. I can’t imagine a property without a fire; they can be messy and dusty, and it’s hard to regulate the temperature as we know all to well, alternating between wearing thick jumpers to wandering around in a t-shirt – but nothing captures rural living better than a fire.

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Come to think of it, winter hasn’t been that bad at all, I don’t mean the weather I mean winter in general, and I am sure that’s all down to the new wood-burner we installed in the kitchen last October for nothing beats a cosy country kitchen. It’s true I’m slightly bored of washing dirty dog-towels, the boot-room is constantly littered with wet coats, wet umbrellas, wellie-boots and mud. But as is always the way in the Charente Maritime, just when I can’t stand the rain any longer, the sun comes out, and even in February it’s a powerful sun, strong enough to actually create some warmth. It beckons us outside and away from the fire. Whilst doing some research I learnt that in Olde English the name for February was Solmonath, which literally means “mud month” – I think I shall be calling it this from now on!

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It is indeed a truly fabulous life, but nothing is ever simple. A few days ago, right after I published the post about Evie, she killed one of our chickens; the victim was our dearest little silkie, Constance. Why Evie would suddenly kill a chicken we have no idea; she has grown up around them since she was two months old, and sure, she chases them for fun, but there has never been any intent to harm, or none that we could see; it was always just a game. I actually walked around feeling rather numb for a couple of days, and the garden and our dog walks temporarily lost their appeal. I know my ancestors would tell me I’m becoming “soft” – maybe I am. Still Mother Nature tried really hard to cheer us up. One of our plum trees is already in blossom, the daffodils are fabulous, and the aubretia and camellias are starting to work their charm. We’ll work out what to do, I know. But our immediate questions of that day already seem over-dramatic; do we sell the chickens, do we fence them in, do we re-home Evie? Most likely we’ll do nothing for now but keep a vigilant eye on her whoever she is outside, hoping it was a one-off, however unlikely that may seem. We’ll keep training her and right now put it down to one of life’s cruel moments.

But for now, the rain has stopped, it’s a perfect sunny French day, and the children’s winter holidays are looming; just one more day to go and then two weeks with them at home – I can’t wait. We have tennis tournaments for the girls in La Rochelle, and then we’re off to the snow and mountains for a few days; there is so much to be thankful for and I certainly am extremely grateful for all of it.

EVIE SPEAKS AGAIN

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Oh Gosh, I’m in the dog-house again! I just can’t help chasing chickens. I know I’m not meant to, and I know I get shouted at, and I know it’s wrong, but the problem is, it’s just SO much fun. I had been good recently, too, but then life changed in the chicken world and I was tempted into sin once more.

You see, Falafel – the young rooster – decided perhaps he wasn’t so happy to share all the girls with Fritz after all, and so they fought. I know, I even heard Mum saying they never fight, but I laughed to myself; what did she really know about animals and chickens, of course I knew all along they would fight. I even mentioned it to Bentley the other night and he agreed too, silly humans.

Anyway, the point is now Fritz is all alone; he wanders sadly around the garden and he’s nowhere near as lively as he used to be. I thought I’d pop over and say hello, cheer the old chap up a bit; a little play-date with me would surely put a spring back in his step….alas, the grown ups saw me, and gosh, did they yell. I stopped of course, I’m quite good like that, but when they weren’t looking I ran over and started playing again. So now I have a double game; chasing Fritz and making sure the humans don’t see me; it’s a little bit like hide and seek.

The weather has been gorgeous and everyone’s been busy in the garden so I get to be outside a lot at the moment which gives Rory, my best friend, a bit of a break. I’ve learnt that cats tend to do things the other way round from us; they love to sleep upstairs, curled up on the bed all day long and they don’t care much for playing. But then, just as darkness falls, and just as I’m thinking it’s time for me to curl up in front of the fire when BANG, they come alive and want to play; they’re such confusing creatures, and then, to put me in even more of a quandary, Bentley likes to sleep all day AND all night. I mean where’s the fun in that? and just as I am coming to terms with all of this and thinking I’ll forego my little snooze and play, Rory falls asleep beside me! Talking about cats, the other one, Clara, who I hardly ever see, is also slightly odd. She doesn’t like coming in the house at all, but she does love playing chase, so I guess she must be okay. The only problem is she won’t play chase with me; I chase her till she climbs a tree, but she never chases me back. She’ll chase other things in the garden quite happily, especially those small grey things with very long tails and when she does that everyone says how brilliant she is. No one ever tells me I’m brilliant when I play chase, I just get shouted at. Life is just so unfair.

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So I wondered if maybe I should ask Bentley if he wants to play with me, he’s always full of lots of advice and everyone makes such a fuss of him, but maybe he’s a little bored; to be honest I am not really sure I quite understand him at all. Take the other morning for example; Mum and Dad opened the kitchen door and ushered us out into the garden; this is always great for a quick sniff here, a quick sniff there, a quick dart about the bushes elsewhere and then back inside for breakfast. Bentley just sat there, by the door waiting to go back inside; doesn’t he care about the big outdoors? I know he’s the same make as me, we’ve compared notes, we’re even the same colour for goodness sake, though I do admit he’s a little fat whilst I’m a perfectly petite little French girl. He does play for a short while sometimes but then he gets bored and goes off and sunbathes again. Just bizarre behaviour.

Then there’s the question of the car and Bentley, for as soon as anyone opens a car door, I’m in, quick as a flash. Cars are good – sometimes it means we are going somewhere great, and there’s a whole new fabulous adventure to enjoy. Okay, so sometimes it’s a touch boring, and I just stay in the car until I’m home again, but even then I love watching the world go past outside the window; I’ve seen all sorts of sights – cats, dogs, sheep (well I think they are sheep, I asked Bentley about them when I got home and he said my description sounded like sheep, so that’s what I am going to call them) and all sorts of other things. However, I can’t show them to Bentley because he simply hates the car – it’s another weird thing about him; I mean, why would anyone hate the car? He has to be physically manhandled in, and then he just stands there behind the seat on the floor and shakes with fear – I like him a lot and he really has helped me but I do think he is rather odd.

The other place I love to go in the car is to school. This is only a rainy-day event, because often the girls walk home; but when it’s raining Mum or Dad pick them up in the car and I go too. I stand with my paws on the dashboard and look out of the front and lots and lots of little girls come running up to say hello. They all make such a fuss of me, rubbing my tummy and tickling my ears – it’s like I have a little fan club at the school gate, and I really am getting quite used to it.

Another thing I’m learning is all about the ‘lead’. I’m even beginning to understand that I have to walk beside Mum or Dad and not pull a few feet in front of them, with my little paws skidding on the ground. Bentley is brilliant on the lead, no surprises there, and they spend so much time saying what a good chap he is; why can’t they say I’m really good! Why is he so good at everything? Can’t they see he’s weird?

Then yesterday we saw a huge creature with enormous legs; I wanted to chase it. However, Hetty and Gigi wanted to stop and give it an apple; an apple? A whole APPLE? I just couldn’t fathom out why a really nice big red apple was being given to a stranger; anyway, that’s when I asked Bentley what it was and he told me it was a horse. I liked the look of it but it did look as though it needed some fun and I am sure I could beat it in a game of chase, it doesn’t move very much. It wasn’t so much bigger than me well just a bit maybe. I pulled and pulled on the lead but no one would let me go, Bentley even had the audacity to smirk, I asked him about that later, they have big feet he said, hard feet and they kick.

“NEVER chase a horse! And never chase a COW” he muttered. “What’s a cow?” I asked?

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My favourite place to walk is when we cross the road behind the house and head out into the country, I know we’ll both be let off the lead, I can run and run, and I try and come back whenever I’m called; this is another thing I’m getting quite good at. I’ve learnt that as soon as they call “Evie!” I must come running and then they’re happy; they make such a fuss, anyone would think I’d just done something really good. Sometimes they even give me treats, yummy edible little nibbles, just because I came when they said my name – I will never ever understand these humans. Then I go off again, I must cover at least five times as much ground as Bentley, but he is quite fun, he does run a bit with me, he even stops and sniffs with me.

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Anyway, let me finish by telling you about a new hobby I have. I’ve learnt to dig holes! It’s fantastic! If I work up enough speed earth flies everywhere! I dig and dig, deeper and deeper, and usually I can go unnoticed, for I have to admit I get shouted at for this as well. Though if I choose a quiet spot no one sees me and here Bentley has been quite helpful. He’s explained to me that the big humans won’t tell me off if they don’t actually catch me doing something wrong; so, as long as I have dug the hole and had my fun, by the time they find the mess it’s too late; they’ll continue to sound cross, and they’ll huff and they’ll puff and sigh and they’ll even say “what are we going to do with her” – but I don’t get shouted at.

Then yesterday, I caught something! I actually caught something from all my digging; it’s called a mole, apparently, and it makes an even bigger mess in the garden than I do. It’s the strangest of creatures, and I found out about them quite by chance one day while snoozing in the grass and I woke up to find the earth starting to sprout up into a volcano in front of my very eyes! Ever since then whenever I find one of the mounds of earth they make, I dig down as fast as I can to where they seem to live in an underground tunnel, and we all get very dirty. Golly, they dig almost as fast as I can. Anyway, I actually caught one the other day, and better still, the humans were happy! They didn’t tell me off, they didn’t shout, they didn’t mutter about what on earth they were going to do with me next, they actually said “well done”. Of course, I immediately went off and dug ten new holes and then I got shouted at again. I was so confused.

I lay next to Bentley by the fire that night and told him all about it, and he just rolled over and told me not to worry and went back to sleep, so I thought I’d do the same, maybe I’ll dream about chasing rabbits.

 

French Hens And Scrambled Eggs

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Which came first the chicken or the egg? It’s a question that is guaranteed lengthy debate around our table at supper. All of our children have strong opinions and know their own minds and no one is shy in making their thoughts be known!

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In our garden the chicken most definitely came first; it’s now just over a year ago that we bought our first four hens. Within a month we had added another three and later a couple more somehow sidled in from somewhere to join the fray. Happily though, since then there has been many times when we have asked ourselves why we’d never kept chickens before. They’re a riot! There’s been a lot to find out, with chesty coughs and sore feet to learn about amongst other things, but that’s where our French neighbours have helped so much; there’s not much they don’t know about chickens, although they do struggle to come to terms with how our chickens are part of the family while their’s are part of the larder. Certainly we have a better understanding of some subtle differences between French country animal husbandry on one side of the fence and children’s pets that lay eggs as a bonus on the other.

In addition, Roddy has become a dab hand at administering the necessary potions and drugs in the dead of night with a torch between his teeth – he’s found that the flock are better treated then when they are all half asleep. He’s remarked on more than one occasion that it’s easy to see how a fox could kill a whole hen-house without any trouble at midnight.

As those of you who have followed the blog for a while know, our chickens are often the star of the show.

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However, I have to admit that for a time they fell into second place, with our Muscovy ducks claiming the centre of our feathered stage; not because the ducks were ducks or because they were enormous; no, it was because of their antics around the garden. You see it turned out that Penny and Adrian (who arrived as a couple) were in fact, not a couple. No, not for them was there the simplicity of being a male and a female; instead there emerged the complexity of having two large testosterone-laden adolescent males in our quiet rural space.

Now this in itself did not bother me, Penny was still called Penny and I simply forgot my plans for free range duck eggs; I liked them, we all liked them and they were here to stay, until that is, they started chasing each other whenever the urge took them. They hurtled around the garden whenever they felt the need, and anything in their path was sent flying; nothing would stop them, for neither wanted to be caught by the other; whoever made a false move lost and then the loser had to succumb to the other’s, er, desires (let’s just leave it at that). It became known as the ‘sex run’ and it was all quite hilarious until it became really quite dangerous for small creatures and small girls, and that’s when we decided they needed some girls of their own. Luckily we knew where there were plenty; some friends of ours who live thirty minutes away were very happy to have two drakes to replace their aging champion, and now our two boys each reside over a harem of females, extremely content.

That brings me back to our chickens and our two roosters; Fritz, our original bantam has been joined by Falafel, our young Faverolle rooster who hatched at the end of May last year. These two have never fought, the result I suspect of them being surrounded by women. There has been the odd squabble at times, but now it all seems to have evened out – Fritz has the small bantams as his consorts and Falafel has the bigger girls. This just leaves Constance the Silkie, lets just say Constance is a bit of a floozy, and she just hangs out with whoever she feels like!

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Our little flock are free to roam where they please

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On rainy days they seek out the wood shed

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and the barn where we keep the mower.

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I am told that several decades ago, when new people moved into the village, they would always be given two or three laying hens as a gift from the Mayor. No one seems to know when this started or indeed when it ceased, but what a wonderful welcome present. Just about everyone in our village keeps chickens, ducks and geese – for the pot.

Talking of pots, we are not going to kill our chickens of course; the only cooking involved is with the eggs, and of course free-range chickens mean fantastic eggs! Ours are really  fabulous jewels with deep, dark, rich-orange yolks and hard thick shells. We have eggs of all sizes; tiny ones from the smallest bantams all the way up the size scale to the double yolkers delivered by Chuckles a couple of times a week; she was one of the original four we bought in 2014 and is now the reigning matriarch. We have near white eggs, pale creamy-colored eggs, and deep brown eggs; in fact we have all sorts of eggs.

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Lots of eggs means lots of egg dishes and sometimes we have to be a little inventive, but it’s amazing how many different recipes and ways to use them Roddy and I come up with. Eggs are of course the perfect quick lunch or supper; easy to cook whether you fry them, boil them, poach them or bake them; we also add them to homemade pizzas

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and we sometimes serve them hard-boiled with a little steamed kale from the garden, which is just about the only vegetable still going strong in the winter weather.

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I also love scrambled eggs with a few herbs, a dish that most of our French friends cannot understand; they call them œufs écrasés which literally means ‘squashed’ eggs. It’s a wonderful way of cooking eggs for us, but our friends look at the results with much ridicule, and there is much muttering about the English and their strange ways of doing things!

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Of course, our eggs also make the best cakes and our little chefs are slowly turning into egg snobs. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but baking certainly has a different hue when the girls start talking about egg quality from our garden!

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Tell me how do you prefer your eggs? and which do you think came first – the chicken or the egg?    Have a wonderful Sunday x

 

AUTUMN IN THE GARDEN

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Across France it’s now the two-week autumn school-holiday known as “Vacances de la Toussaint”. So far we have enjoyed fantastic weather with warmish sunny days; ok, not exactly swimming weather, but perfect walking weather, perfect playing-in-the-garden weather and perfect weather for exploring near and far.

The children take a huge interest in this little blog of mine; indeed frequently they are my inspiration and so as we were kicking about in the falling leaves, they asked what I was going to write about this week and that’s when it came to me. “This”, I replied, pointing to our autumnal shrubbery and falling leaves,”a tour of our garden in autumn”,

“But it looks a mess!” they chorused, adding “and it’s not exactly pretty at the moment,” but  that’s when the fun started. I fetched my camera and we wandered around, stopping to take photos, and suddenly what they had taken for granted as red leaves clinging to an old stone wall, took on a new form as they turned russet orange in the afternoon sun.

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The Japanese Anemones are still flowering, self-seeded in places, and with the protection of a north-facing wall they are still  in abundance in many corners of the garden; and the Salvia Grahamii have been in bloom all through the summer and continue to provide colour.

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Roses are once again flowering as they have their last flurry before winter takes its toll, and  the Pampas Grass is looking fabulous. There are tiny hardy Cyclamen all over the place in shady spots, poking their heads up between the fallen leaves.

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The vegetable garden has been dug over and the autumn kale has been planted. The roses down there are a stark contrast to the plainness of the bare earth.  However, the aubergines, peppers and chillies are still going strong and producing as fast as we can eat them.

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Our Persimmon tree is quite literally groaning under the weight of so much fruit, so much so that a huge branch broke off one afternoon with a quite frightening crack and a subsequent thud. This has made us look at seriously pruning it back this winter to a more manageable level. In the meantime we have yet to see if we can get the fruit to ripen enough before it gets too cold, I am told they sell for a pound each in England so we must have at least £200 of fruit! Last year winter came far too quickly for the fruits, and I fear it will be the same again this year.

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We don’t have any apple trees but a friend has plenty and she is constantly providing us with box loads of fruit. Sweet and crunchy they are perfect in cakes, tarts, compotes or just eaten straight from the box.

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The chickens are hard at work enjoying the cooler weather. I was digging up some of last years well rotted leaves as mulch for a new shrub I had planted and they are never far away from my feet, searching for grubs and worms. In turn they are rewarding us with more eggs than we can eat and it’s been a very long time since we saw a tick on the dogs. After a summer fraught with chicken problems we are back to a healthy flock, so our fingers are crossed that Roddy can take off his veterinarian’s coat for a while.

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Fritz the bantam cock has turned very dark, quite suddenly, and Constance, our only Silkie, is quite a madam earning herself any number of nicknames from visitors this summer! Gone are the long lazy days when our flock rested in the shade of a tree for hours on end; now they are on the move from dawn until dusk, constantly scrounging tidbits from anywhere they can get their feet and beaks into. They are very opportunist feeders and we have seen some surprising items disappear into frenzied craws, including half-consumed cat leftovers….. no more details needed..

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It seems as if we have been clearing leaves forever, but in truth we have barely started, many are still green and there are plenty more to come down !

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So it’s just as well we bought ourselves a new leaf collector that is towed along behind the mower, it is certainly making life much easier this year, I won’t have the arm muscles of last autumn but it will be done in a quarter of the time instead and anyway I always have my little helpers!

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IT’S TIME TO GET SERIOUS

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It’s that terribly sad time of year when the children have returned to school and suddenly summer seems to be nearly over.   There was no gentle slide towards the impending autumn; rather it happened overnight in the blink of an eye. One day everyone was swimming, with long leisurely lunches outside, and everywhere one turned holiday-makers swarmed like wasps over hot pavements.  Then the next moment the children were back at school, slipping back into their routines as if the long summer-break had never  happened. Suddenly the traffic is a little lighter, and the tourists have halved in number; and quite co-incidentally the weather  has dropped by several degrees.  To be honest though, I don’t actually think it’s the slightly cooler days that have made it all feel somehow different, it’s the fact that in France La Rentrée doesn’t just apply to schools; it actually applies to almost everything – restaurants re-open for business lunches, businesses re-open, government offices that have run on a mere skeleton staff return to full capacity, and in short France goes back to work and gets serious again. It’s a system quite unlike anything you may be used to, but it seems to work.

The two youngest girls and Roddy walk to school on these lovely sunny mornings, gallantly trailing  their pull-along bags; nearly every French child at primary school uses a pull-along and it certainly makes a great deal more sense than carrying backpacks groaning with books which are almost the same size and weight as the child carrying them.  As a result each morning and afternoon the old narrow streets of the village reverberate to the unmistakable sound of school-bag wheels rolling along the pavements.

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I drive the older two children to their school some 8kms away.  Once again we’re back to our school routine and once again admiring all the area has to offer. I relish how lucky I am to have such a beautiful early morning drive each day following the church steeples from village to village.  On the way home yesterday I stopped and took some photos, trying to capture the very essence of what makes the school run so special and why I never tire of it.

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This morning it was such a beautiful day I took the time to dawdle again and take a few more photos.  It was one of those early mornings when you just want to be outside; the air had a definite coolness to it, and the sultry humid air of mid-summer is slowly waning; it’s being replaced by something just a little fresher.

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I noticed this new sign in a nearby village, Roule ma Poule, it’s a new Salon de Thé due to open this coming Saturday; Roule ma poule does not mean ‘roll my chicken’, which is the literal translation, but is rather more an expression similar to ‘Let’s go!’. It should’t be confused with ça roule ma poule which in total contrast means more “are you okay, little one ?” in a casual way, with perhaps a wink!  Roddy – who is pretty fluent in French – read an amusing expression last year which he had understood was just a local term for ‘bad weather’; he happily went around repeating it to all and sundry last winter, thinking he had a grasp of the local patois. Unfortunately, little did he realize that in fact what he was saying, was indeed very local, but also extremely rude (but that’s another story!).  In short beware of odd phrases, they don’t always mean what they say at all!

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Still, summer may be fading, the sun may be just a little weaker and the nights a little cooler, but the days are still beautiful; with solar-heating the pool is still around 30˚C and I am hoping there will be much splashing after school and at weekends for at least another month, if not two!  To confirm that the holiday season is not totally forgotten some of our favourite friends are coming over to visit from America at the beginning of October; yesterday they phoned to confirm they had booked their flights and we couldn’t be more excited – I cannot wait to share our little corner of France with them.

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Our vegetable garden is still producing wonderful food. We still have lots of carrots, plenty of melons, loads of peppers, an abundance of courgettes and aubergines, and a few lettuce.   The grapes are ripe and soon it will be the turn of the persimmons and olives. The tomatoes were hit by an end of season late blight which took hold in a matter of hours after one particularly strong storm accompanied by an overnight downpour.  But I can’t complain as the freezer is stocked with homemade tomato sauce and ratatouille,  it is Roddy who has labored over the tomatoes with some dedication at the stove and the freezer is looking very healthy.  The hedgerows are overflowing with blackberries and sloes and our fig tree is heaving with fruit – right now we’re getting a trug-ful a day !

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The rest of the garden is still looking relatively good despite a tough summer for plants with searing temperatures and very little or no water. The Japanese Anenome have come into their own and are flowering in all sorts of corners that otherwise lie forgotten.

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Last night for the very first time I made confiture de figues.  In Italy it is a firm favourite and I have eaten it several times before, but never made my own. It is delicious with cheese and I am going to try it out on several friends who are coming for a bbq on Sunday. My many little sous-chefs here confirmed that it tasted fab while warm, so it’s looking good !

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In other news, it’s been a difficult summer for the chickens that has seen us back and forth to the vet several times; I can almost hear the vet clap his hands together as he sees les fous Anglais (crazy English) arrive at the door for yet further medicine for their chickens; these are drugs that costs 20€ a go for a chicken that cost 11 euros!   However, suffice it to say that not all has been a success and there is sadly now more than one cross at the end of the garden.  But we have treated a respiratory virus that seemed to plague several of them with (fingers crossed) complete success.

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Out of the eggs that Rosie sat on so patiently and hatched we kept one faverolle chick who we really hoped would be a female; it was lighter than the rest of them which we had given away but alas, the remaining ‘she’ is very much a ‘he’, who we have named – and I have no idea quite how this came about – Falafel!  He is now thirteen weeks old and very cute; he has taken to following me around the garden cheeping wherever he goes and for some bizarre reason he thinks the two ducks are his parents.  For the time being there is no fighting between him and Fritz and so for now his home is assured with us. He does sleep separately from the others and much to his dismay, Evie still thinks he is there just to be chased, no matter what we do to stop the fun and games….

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Talking of ducks, Penny and Adrian are thriving, but – and it seems there is always a but – Penny is not a lady, alas, but a male!  We have two male ducks and not the couple that we thought we were given!  We didn’t have the heart to rename him so he is now a male duck called Penny!  The two of them went through their teenage stage of being a little standoffish and aggressive,  but they’ve now settled into a happy domestic partnership who once again eat out of our hands – tame and as gentle as can be.  I guess as there is no dominant male any longer life is easy!

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A SLOWER PACE OF LIFE? YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!

“We will have more time on our hands”

“It will get less frenetic soon”

“When we have more time”

I seem to utter these phrases several times a day, or perhaps I am just trying to convince myself, but I do know that we really will have more time on our hands soon; I really do hope so.  Right now, I feel as if I am being pulled in every direction.  The weather is beautiful, with long hot sunny days and it’s not getting dark until well after 10pm.  This has a downside though, as we are working until well past 10pm each and every day.  We’re up against a few deadlines and nothing bar nothing seems to be going our way at the moment.

Our guest house has a deadline and we are frantically trying to get it finished, but it seems to be a case of one step forward and two back as we hit problem after problem;  below is a little glimpse of what it looked like when we bought the house, and what it has gradually turned into.

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The pool is still not finished as it has also suffered a few setbacks.  Arguing with customer relations on the phone is not my forte in French, and even Roddy struggled to break down the obstinate defenses of the seasoned pool shop campaigner who fielded his questions and demands with an increasingly frightening use of French terms which seemed to have no direct English translation.

Jack finished school this week on Tuesday and has been reveling in not having to get up at the crack of dawn any more.  Millie finished last Friday, but returns to school today and tomorrow for her Brevet exams which I’ll explain later;  this has been a revision week at home for her.  The two youngest girls still have another week much to their annoyance, but it’s hardly doom and gloom, they have their big school fête to look forward to at which I thoughtfully volunteered Roddy to run the barbecue!  There are dance performances, games and singing, and with much practicing replacing standard lessons at school the excitement is building amongst all the little ones.  They also have a day out touring the marsh in the Marais on their bicycles next week and it should be a fabulously novel school trip. This morning they went to school on their bikes as they were spending a good part of the day going over road safety, safe bike handling and so on. Of course, when you’re 8 or 10, this isn’t boring –  this is super-exciting stuff; in fact anything that detracts from normal lessons is super-exciting, at least that’s how it was in my day and I think that is one of the few things that hasn’t changed! Roddy trundled down the road with two children, two bikes, two large school satchels, helmets and various other accoutrements, muttering under his breath about Don Quixote, donkeys, and windmills. I rather think his foot suddenly developed a limp again just for the spectators.

What is also exciting for us is the fact that Izzi is home from University for the summer; it’s fabulous to have all five of the children together again and it’s just plain NICE to have her home.  She has taken over the role of head-cook and part-time housekeeper whilst we live in this temporary whirlwind of deadlines, and in turn this allows me to get bitten late at night in the garden by mosquitos as I deadhead, weed and water. The bats whirring sibilantly around my head are very much my friends in reality, of course, but I have to worry about them too, I have had a fear of bats ever since I watched a highly unsuitable horror movie when I was a teenager. Roddy confidently announced we had two species in the garden, and surprised at his knowledge, I asked which sort – the answer was typical and to the point – ‘big ones and little ones’.

Mowing the lawn at 8pm yesterday evening Izzi called me in to supper.  What awaited was not a quick snack thrown together, but a beautifully presented delicious meal, including a much needed glass of wine. Best of all, she is managing to cater for all seven of us with a lot of our produce fresh from the garden; no one could ever ask for a more thoughtful beautiful daughter, Izzi darling, you are the best, Thank You xxx

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Amidst the chaos of the last week,  it turns out that our four Faverol chicks appear to be three males and one female –  which is not the result we had wanted!  As I had promised our neighbour’s son, who also happens to be best friend with the girls, a female and a male chick, I wasn’t going to go back on my promise.  So we have advertised the other two males for sale as we cannot keep another rooster; it would be much bigger than our dear bantam rooster, Fritz, and would no doubt beat him up quite severely with so few females to go around.  Roddy did mention that we had some perfectly good casserole dishes and a bottle or two of good red wine which could be used to rectify the situation, but this has appalled the children who vehemently stated they were going to a good home instead. As a result, however, I was persuaded (although it took very little persuading, to be frank), to purchase two new laying-hens.  So we now have two beautiful white Sussex hens; Églantine and Astrid – regal speckled-white ladies amongst the shadows under the lime trees. Along the way when my back was turned Millie also managed to squeeze a young female white Silkie into the hen basket at the same time, whom she has named Constance.  She has been wanting a Silkie for five years, and  her dream has finally been fulfilled.  We had to trim the feathers around her eyes yesterday and I can see she is going to be the pampered pooch of the hen house!  Roddy stomped his feet at first and then muttered that Constance looked a little like a poodle!

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Then, just as I thought I was finally in control, Millie dropped a bombshell. We were just returning in the car yesterday evening, halfway down the drive, when she casually mentioned she needed her passport to take to school with her tomorrow for her Brevet.  “But I don’t have it” I replied, “it’s in England being renewed, I sent it off a couple of days ago.”

“What ??????” she wailed, “You cannot be serious ????  OMG !!!   I have to have it,  I have to have a piece of official identity with a photo, nothing else will count, Mama my life is finished, I won’t be able to take my Brevet –  Mama how can you have sent it away, Mama…”   I felt about as small and useless as a snail, but right then I didn’t have any other answer,  which really wasn’t helpful in placating a distraught 15 year old who truly believed she would now not be able to take her Brevet.

I’d best explain a little.  The Brevet in France is similar to GSCE exams in the UK;  they are taken in several subjects at the end of College (MIddle School), and most children are usually 15 when they take their Brevet.  Some leave school for good after this, for others it is the exams that decide if they are able to move on to Lycée (High School), but there are only three years of Lycée and four years of College here.  The exams are sat right the way across France on the same days at the same time, by millions of pupils.  During the past couple of months they have sat several mock exams (the Brevet Blanc) but now everything comes down to two days.  I phoned Roddy who was not at home to ask him what we should do, although he had no clue either.

Just as I was preparing to ring the school and beg, plead, grovel (this was not a time for pride), Roddy called me back.  Rather sheepishly he told me he had found an envelope on the dashboard of his car, and in it was the said passport which was meant to be on it’s way to the UK and Her Majesty’s Passport Office for renewal.  He had completely forgotten to go to the post office with it on Monday when I had given it to him.  Never again will I swear at my husband for forgetting to mail a letter; it’s true there have been other occasions when I have taken his car and found a letter sitting on the passenger seat under a long-forgotten coat which I had assumed had long ago reached it’s destination; and there have been occasions, I have to admit, when I have been more than just a little annoyed (with maybe even the odd swear word uttered), but never ever again will this happen – for this time he has truly saved my bacon.

Peace has been restored and I did not have to grovel and beg at all!  So to any readers from France who have children taking their Brevet today and tomorrow I wish them the very best of luck, or as a French lady said to me yesterday, we don’t say good luck to someone we say Merde!

In the meantime Izzi and I are off to Bordeaux today to collect her best friend who is visiting France for the first time ever,  now if only I can find the time to show her around!  Meanwhile I am still dreaming of those long lazy summer days reading a book under the shade of a tree, drink in hand and the occasional dip in the pool when it gets too warm – sigh, we will have more time soon!

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