As you get older it becomes apparent, if you’re paying attention, that sometimes you are no longer very good at doing some things. This I have discovered recently. It seems that, despite my own delusions, I am not particularly clever at mending tools that have broken beyond simple repair, like the lawnmower or a broom handle. I am also no longer good in the company of people with a limited sense of humour, or vegetarians - or at doing the washing up!
But, for some strange reason I have recently developed an excellent sense of smell. Why is that? Is it common? Does British Gas use octogenarians to detect leaks? Well no, I don’t think so - research shows that as we get older our senses become less efficient. So maybe it means I am getting younger? I wish! Many years ago I used to smoke – and we all know what that evil habit does to the taste-buds – but surely mine haven’t suddenly just recovered? After 20 years?
When I walk around the garden, I can now smell lilac flowers from 200 paces and I’m sure that never used to happen. Likewise, in the kitchen I can detect a dirty glass or cup, based on smell alone. Also I now can tell a decent wine from a one that smells like horse urine. Mice? – I get them banged to rights, long before the cats detect their existence. Herbs, spices, yoghurt, smelly dogs, they all appear to me as though in colourful stereo! And my own socks – well, let’s not go there! How absolutely weird! They say blind people have a great sense of smell, and I will admit that nowadays I wear reading glasses, but surely that’s not it?
Not that I am complaining. At least now I can locate my own slippers.
At last Spring-proper is upon us here in France and, as always, I mention the garden; something that a bit of dazzling sunshine works its magic on as nature licks her wounds after a spiteful winter has been dismissed, leaving its trail of desolation behind. Dogs, sheep and myself have all been shaved in varying degrees of embarrassing stripes, although at least I have a hat to cover mine when visitors call. In fact, the last few weeks were so damn hot that the sun has already eaten a layer off my skin as I spent endless bare-breasted days re-fencing the field to contain our ever increasing flock of sheep. We now have 15 - not quite sure when that happened.
At 6 weeks old, our two youngest ones – Rogan and Josh - are still getting milk from a bottle, since their mother disowned them at birth, but at least they have stopped eating my garden. Oh to be an animal so simple that you cannot see the irony, as you happily nibble on rosemary, garlic and mint!
At least Kebab, the goat, only confines his dining to our washing line! Just kidding – we don’t really have a goat – and if we did I am not sure I couldn’t eat a whole one.
This year the sheep are giving me another headache though, as I try and keep up with new euro-legislation which has come just into being. Yes, the French have yet again implemented an over-administrative process, this time that requires me to put a microchip into each of their ears so that they can track them - possibly by radar – and introduced the eSheep!
However, in this case, I will have to rather embarrassingly hold up my hand in class and admit that I was actually involved in the early trials for electronic livestock identification, something that in hindsight probably serves little usage. You see the concept - as with many concepts - works very well on a drawing board, where ideally the food-chain can be so linked together by computer data that in practice we could identify everything we eat, right down to its place of birth, diet and logistical voyage all the way from there to our plate. ‘What a great idea?’ said a naive young Andy, ‘and let’s make some cash while we are at it.’ The problem was then, and still is to this day, that nobody gives a flying f**k where their food really comes from, as long as it’s cheap and tastes nice. The fact that I now have to add an extra couple of quid to production costs, let alone a heap more paperwork, to each animal at my end so that – if someone were so inclined – food could be traced back to our field, helps nobody, least of all me. The minor fact that my few animals will probably be slaughtered on our farm helps me even less so - I know where they came from without have to plug them into the National grid, thanks.
However – and here comes the real thorny side – UK have not actually implemented this process yet! So now the French can only trace the lambs that have been produced in their own country, not the 40% than have been ‘invisibly’ imported from Britain! French farmers - you have to love them? Priceless!
It rained today. Whoopie. That’s twice this year now. Thankfully I have all the vegetables planted, except for the spuds. We’ve had a continual problem with blight for the last few years, so this year I have sought out some new seed that carries a resistant gene. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it in France and I had to order some on the internet. Except, UK companies are unable to post potatoes to France, for reasons better known to themselves – or possibly yet another absurd EEC rule - and I have eventually had to seek out my Sarpo-Mira variety in Ireland. Cost £2.25 plus postage of £13! Madness. Fifteen quid would buy me two barrow-loads from Lidl!
Yes, we do have a Lidl, in fact 2 new ones have been built within 5 miles of here, just last year.
Which brings me neatly round to a story: I am the only person I know to be thrown out of a Lidl store - In St Tropez, no less!
In the first instance, this raises a couple of interesting questions.
1:- that they actually have a Lidl in St Tropez and
2:- that anyone could possibly be thrown out of one?
Well, the reason for me being in there was we had just seen a sign, whilst sitting the horrendous queue for a parking space in that over-priced egotistical little fishing village, that said ‘Champagne €10 per bottle’. You see, Lidl, unlike our other super-markets – and most of UK's – maintain a constant pricing structure throughout the country, no matter how affluent the inhabitants of that area; in fact, for most goods, this universal price is maintained throughout Europe. So a bottle of what would have cost upwards of £100 in a restaurant in snobby Poser-town was a still only tenner. Bargain!
Being thrown out? Oh, only a minor offence really – for having no shoes on. It seems the Germans may encourage some of Europe’s lowest low-life into its stores, but gypsies are one step too far!