Monday, 17 April 2017

The breaking season

    Sun shining, grass growing, a million jobs to do. I must be back in France again then? Not that I can complain about the weather in Scotland, for it was beautiful on the East Coast when I was there for 3 weeks. So maybe, for once, the sun is following me around: wouldn’t that be nice?
    I had recently announced that lambing was over, but how wrong I was when last weekend we had a surprise birth. The culprit was the only daughter of famed Daisy Deathwish and thus, true to family form, she dropped it and scarpered! After a brief ID parade, Delilah was gathered into the shed and presented with the poor orphan which she proceeded to head butt in a rather unladylike fashion. She then watched cautiously as I constructed a set of wooden stocks in which she still sits until she learns the error of her ways and accepts her responsibility. Even then I have to stand over her to let the lamb suck else she kicks it to pieces with a more accurate pair of feet than Wayne Rooney. The threat still remains that if she doesn’t conform soon, I will build a gallows next!
    With the fast growing grass, and lambs, comes the time for worming. After last year’s rainy spring, we had a particular problem with liver-fluke in the lambs, something which I haven’t seen for many a year in UK. So, after some expensive veterinary advice, we invest our month’s savings in a tiny bottle of medicine to treat all the sheep. As the leaflet within is not only written in miniscule font, but in French, I decide to Google exactly what this wonder-drug actually cures. Soon, up comes a page with a list as long as a politician’s expenses sheet, including over 100 parasites with lengthy and quite scary Latin names. I next have to get Bing Translator TM to convert French Latin into English, which is no mean task. It was then I was first introduced to a number of tiny beasts of whose existence I was previously oblivious to. Did you know that a Parafilaria bovicola is otherwise known as ‘False Bruising’? No, nor did I. My favourite was the mighty Hook-necked Cattle Bankruptworm. Who wouldn’t want to rid that one out of the field at first light, or moreover still, keep it away from the accounts department!  
   Staying on the subject of lamb, some might say rather callously, I have to mention our BBQ. We possess, and have done for exactly 10 years, a Weber top of the range gas barbeque, and for all its 10 years it has worked like a slave, faultlessly cooking not only for us but for our numerous party guests. Now some of you may be aware, Weber offer a 10 year guarantee on their products. Why? Because they pack up after that, that’s why. Yes, just 2 days after the warranty faded, it died. I have no complaints, it gave a good service till the end, I just find it unbelievably perfect timing, that’s all. Of course when we went to replace it with a shiny new one at the start of cooking season, the price had doubled to nearly a squillion euros, with no discounts available. Here’s hoping the new one can earn its keep for another decade.
    Last month appeared to be the season for things packing up, as I bought a new run-around vehicle in Scotland, which lasted approximately 3 days before a warning light flashed on the dashboard, telling me it no longer worked. Well it wasn’t so much a warning light than a blazing display of beacons all lit up like a jackpot machine on payout day. Along with it, the fuel gauge now goes up and down like a bride’s nightie, the electric speedo and handbrake no longer function and the parking sensors insist I am about to run over an old lady. My local mechanic in East Fife took one look at it and shook his head in doom, as only mechanics can. Eventually I took it to VW specialist in Edinburgh who gleefully announced that this particular model of Passat was renowned for electrical faults and should be avoided at all costs. He then proceeded to diagnose a faulty electrode somewhere in the bowels of the engine and arrived at a repair cost of £1500, a hundred quid more than I paid for the car in the first place. So, we now keep a half brick in the boot to aid parking on hills, keep a close check on the mirrors when reversing, refuel every day, and drive everywhere in second gear for fear of being caught speeding! Strangely enough, it is just over 10 years old as well.
    Finally I would like to wish you all a happy Easter or Paquee, as it is called in French. Years ago, one might proffer a card or even a chocolate egg on such occasions. But not now, since it has been hijacked by the demons of commercialism. Now we have seasonal shopping from Toys’r’us for all the spoilt kids, some of whom write their demands in a letter to the Easter Bunny, complete with death threats. Drinks companies advertise romantic nights in with hi-octane cocktails of alchopops, with Gaviscon backing up the rear (so to speak), and travel agents invite us to ‘quiet’ weekends with all the children at Centreparks, where the quietest thing in the place are the sirens on the security lorry taking our cash to their bank. However, I think the best band-waggon hijack I have seen so far was an email from EE suggesting: ‘I buy my mother a mobile top-up for Mother’s Day!’ Really? Here you go Ma, forget the flowers and choc-box this year, have a tenner on your Samsung in case you need to speed-dial the doctor! As always, je despair!

Mile-high mumblings

Here we go again, writing this column at 30 thousand feet, I seem to be making a habit of it lately. This time I am leaving behind the blazing sunshine in France, heading north for a few weeks work on my latest building project in East Neuk of Fife. Having battled with the local council we at last have the plans and permissions approved in triplicate to take it to the next phase, that of knocking through a few walls and windows in my hard hat. Leaving Wendy at home tending the flock - which I am happy to announce has expanded by a dozen lambs over the last 3 weeks - I am travelling with a pal who is lending me a hand in Scotland. Together with a couple of tradesmen, we are hoping to have a good kick of the ball and get the new house into something livable by Easter, including 3 bathrooms and a kitchen fitted and tiled. Of course this will marginally rely on the appearance of our ever elusive plumber, but I suspect he will turn up at some point to complete the job, if only so he can collect his paycheque.
   Don’t tell my shepherdess but hopefully it won’t be all work, as we intend to get a visit to Edinburgh to take in a Six Nations rugby match and show my Aussie pal a few sights. He is also a keen golfer so it would be rude of me not to get a cheeky wee round on St Andrews Old Course, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, I do feel that I have earned some rest since I have been up with the larks every morning checking sheep, and then toiling by day in the fields since I last wrote. After nearly 10 years at Chauffour I have finally gotten around to erecting some proper fencing instead of the few dilapidated strands of electric wire we have around the perimeter of the farm. This, along with the odd piece of corrugated tin blocking up a sheep-sized hole in the hedge, has now all been replaced with shiny new netting and 2 metre wooden posts, topped off with deadly high-tensiled barbed wire. I could forgive my neighbours for suspecting we may be loosing a herd of giraffes out on to our grassy plains, such is the height of the wire, but in reality the extent of this precautionary security is to keep out stray dogs on their nocturnal visits. Although we have not lost any ewes to these predators recently, one of our best ones is empty this term, having slipped her lambs early on after being chased around by an Alsatian. The new fence is also handy for cordoning off Skippy, Wendy’s past pet lamb who is now 4 years old and as fat as a whale, while he gorges all the food from the needy ewes and lambs, shoulder barging his way to the trough like an English rugby forward in a Calcutta cup match (oops, sorry, could resist that analogy!). Now the redundant critter has to watching in foaming salivation from behind his Colditz-like prison wire, saving me a few quid in the process. As well as two weeks fencing, bramble-clearing and tree felling, there have also been all the other springtime chores to tick off before I depart, such as mowing, pruning and weed irradiation to tire my aching bones.
   On the subject of the latter, I popped into the local agricultural store to pick up a litre of Round up yesterday, only to find it is now securely locked up behind a bullet-proof glass door. On questioning this I find that this is the latest round of bureaucracy to be conjured up out of Brussels with zero regard for common sense: that crop-chemicals can no longer be left on open display. I can only assume that this is an attempt to hinder Darwin’s theory that stupid people be left to their own self destruction, by drinking the stuff? But how, I have to ask, will this do anything other than instigate a price increase? Surely if folks want to have a weed-killer aperitif or a binge drinking weekend of insecticide, locking it behind glass at its point of sale will not deter them, will it? But then it got me round to wondering if this madness had yet permeated into UK, the country who has a track-record of adhering more strictly to the EU rules more than any other? Because, since Brexit, it no longer has a Lord and Master to administer such ridiculous laws on its inhabitants. Does this mean that, over time, the death-rate by stupidity will rise in Britain? Will Mister thicko from Wickham soon be allowed to accidentally cut his own head-off with a Stanley knife because the blade didn’t have a warning sticker? Or, heaven forbid, alcohol and cigarettes no longer have lurid photos of half-dead people on the front, and bacon rolls carrying the ‘lardy-bloater’ logo, leaving me in peace? If so, you Brexiteers, I salute you – even if your moronic vote does mean my euro is now worth little more than a chocolate button.