Friday, 17 June 2022

Hoggy vs Haggis


Greetings from the road, somewhere overlooking the sea. This, I think, is day 22 of a 68 day journey around UK. Our first stop, which seems like an age ago now, was at a wonderfully orchestrated wedding, on a small farm near Lincoln. There is probably no prouder moment in a father’s life than seeing his son marry a beautiful woman, and that he did. There was a slight wobble on our route over from France since I had surreptitiously stashed away quite a lot more that my allocated allowance of wine in the camper. Thankfully, a seductive smile from my wife dissuaded the genderless customs officer from pulling us over for a strip search, or the wedding could have been a much drier affair.  As we are essentially on the road to a sheep show we are also carrying a box of suspicious looking instruments required to pretty the animals up, when the time comes. These too thankfully remained undetected by Les Gendarmes. I mention the word ‘box’, better known as a Kist in Scotland, as I have proudly resurrected my father’s old one, complete with padded seat, aside which has been the location of many parties over his reign in the show-rings of old. As a further gesture, the box took pride of place in the wedding marquee displaying the words HS Frazier and Son, topped with beautiful flowers. A fitting tribute to the old bugger, I thought. Hopefully some more parties can be enjoyed on it soon. I would like to take this space to publicly congratulate Jack and Emma Frazier on their marriage.

We then moved on south and included a couple of nights in the New Forest where I caught up with my old pal Mark Turner, who used to live next door to the Rock Cross Inn. I say caught up, there was a lot of ground to cover through the forty years since we last spoke. We filled this in with a game of golf and then managed to get parked in the middle of a National Park in the village of Burley, where we were surrounded by deer, so friendly they would just about poke their head in through the camper door. I am not sure they were too impressed with the venison burgers we had for dinner, though.

A short hop saw us to the Isle of Wight in time to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and celebrate we did. Four days of partying included a whole day on a large motor boat, along with eight other even larger ones parked in a circle, where we could precariously step from one to another, drink in hand. Miraculously, none of us went in the drink, with our drink! Craig and Emma, our wonderful hosts, plied us with so much lobster and fizz that I am sure Her Majesty would have been suitably impressed.

From there our journey has taken us to South Wales, initially on to the fabulous Gower peninsula at Oxwich bay and then on to Amroth, a sleepy little village that I last visited when I was four years old. Somewhere there is a photo of a fat little me sitting on a beach eating an ice-cream in the rain. Nothing has changed apart from me being five feet taller now! Continuing along the coast we happened on an even more picturesque village called Little Haven and what a haven it was. Parked on a vantage point overlooking the St Bride’s Bay, we spent a pair of glorious days admiring the view from our window until one evening we were joined by a couple of strangers named Fred and Sheila, her hailing from Kidderminster and coincidentally being at school with my sister. It was an entertaining night to be sure, each of us regaling stories about our nomadic lives. As a competent badminton player, and Wendy and I both keen on table tennis, he introduced me to a new game called ‘Pickle Ball’. No, not something on a canapĂ© menu but a cross between the two above sports, sort of table tennis without the table, which sounds so much fun I think we might indulge when we get home. I had for the previous few months been ploughing through a crime novel by Peter May, a writer I usually enjoy. However this, one of his more recent ones, had got more and more bogged down with fine detail on just about every situation until it became unnecessarily tedious as he described each flower, bush, hill, car and person in more flowery detail that Rembrandt could have added. I can only guess that in his older age he has discovered the sauce. Couple that with a plot about as thin as Naomi Campbell and it ended up consuming a month of my life I will never get back. Having dragged myself to the end of it, thankfully I palmed it off on Fred who, after I had admitted I was an author, and despite me giving him my real name, was convinced I had written the thing under a pen name! I can just about hear him snoring still! Somehow or other, during the escapade we have managed to snap the door handle off on the inside of the camper, only to wake up and be unable to get out of the thing! I have fashioned a work-around for now but the new part has to be flown in from somewhere in Europe at great expense, which we might see by Autumn. Staff shortages, apparently!

      In the next day or so we will depart for the North, the apprehension rising as we approach our first sheep event with our three beasts. Although I have spent more time on my knees in the ring than Frank Bruno, it will be at least twenty years ago since I showed a sheep in anger. I will report on our progress in due course. Also, in due course, when we return south we will have gained an extra passenger in the shape of a small puppy. Yes, after talking about it for nearly two years we have finally gone and bought a Border Terrorist. Look out Pooper, your life is about to change when wee Haggis arrives! And you too, Hoggy!

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Tractor Domination

 At last we have some guests here at Chauffour, after what seems like an eternity. Yes, it does add more cooking and cleaning but the company of three of Wendy's best pals far outweighs that. And it seems they brought the sunshine with them all the way from Scotland and with temperatures now up to 30 degrees, we won’t be long before we start praying for rain again!

As often happens when the house is full of women, I am saddled with the inevitable punishment of being forced to watch Eurovision. I have to say, a bigger pile of pretentious trash I have rarely witnessed but thankfully I fell asleep before the announcement of the predicable Ukrainian winners. Small recompense for having your country invaded, I suppose, but every cloud, etc. Apologies for the spoiler if you haven’t watched it yet and were saving the recording for a quiet evening but look on the bright side, I have saved you a few hours of humiliation.

On that subject, I am slightly concerned about my passion for tractors which I occasionally look at on the internet with complete innocence. Seemingly that is no longer allowed in the governmental circles in case MPs get sidetracked into obscene pornography, so it won’t be long before it is banned altogether. Who would a thought a Class Dominator was anything other than a combine harvester? Preposterous! Oh well, if I stop liking tractors, does that make me an Extractor Fan? Groan!

I mentioned last month that we now have a ride-on lawnmower. Well, in a bid to squeeze into a father-of-the-groom wedding suit later this month, I have made a massive effort to lose some weight by cutting out the wine and cheese which, up until this weekend, has been working fine. A couple of games of golf per week is contributing to the exercise but I do miss walking behind the mower for hours at a time to get my steps in. But here’s the interesting thing, my Fitbit watch has been fooled into thinking that sitting on the mowing machine constitutes exercise. Result! I kid you not, after I finish an hour’s worth of laziness in the seat I get rewarded with the information that I have just walked to Bordeaux and back. Who makes these things?

Anyone who has been here to Chauffour will tell you that we have a great view from our back terrace of a dilapidated ancient barn and windmill on the near horizon. Well, we did do until a few months ago when someone came along and knocked the barn down. For the next weeks our peace was shattered by heavy machinery digging and moving earth, then followed by a constant trail of concrete lorries. Lord knows what they are building up there but by the size of it methinks a large family will be moving in by the end of the summer to overlook the privacy of our swimming pool. Maybe they will fill the spare rooms with Ukrainian refugees. Ha, we could all have a sing-along to Go-SHUM!

Countdown is now on until we head off on our UK travels, with the first stop on British soil to get a new MOT on the camper. So, in true mechanical fashion, the damn thing has broken down. Well, not exactly broken but it is sending me a warning that something isn’t right and that in turn will fail its test. A light on the dashboard suggests my Air Bag isn’t working properly. She was fine last time I looked, washing the dishes in the kitchen!

And run...

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Carlsberg Cauldron

 Whoosh, there it goes again, that deadline rushing by at great speed. Had I written this a few days ago, when I should have done, I would be once again berating the French weather with its cold rain and wind, but thankfully this weekend it has at last furnished us with a few rays of summer which will hopefully last more than a couple of days.

This, of course, is silly season in the garden but with too many other work commitments at present I leave a lot of that to my lovely wife. However, unfortunately she failed to see the tree stump that I have spent the last 15 years avoiding with the lawnmower, the consequence of which was a loud bang, lots of smoke, a big pool of oil and its instant death. So, after many years, we have now invested in a new shiny toy with a comfy seat on it along with some red and white tape around the no-go areas. Thankfully, the new machine has some headlights on it, in case I need to shoehorn in a midnight cut!  I mean, really? That’s about as useful putting climbing shoes on a cat!

This time of year is also rugby season and last weekend we took off south in the camper to see a few European games. Doing her research, Wendy spotted on the internet a parking place ideally situated within a few minutes’ walk from the stadium in Toulouse. Nearby were a few bars and restaurants, perfect. What we hadn’t bargained for was it was also the local drug-dealing spot, where cars came and went all through the night, fulfilling their procurement. We have since found out it was also a local ‘dogging’ site, whatever one of those might be!  Anyway, the rugby was great although the Toulouse fans were less than enamoured with the ref after he sent off one of their players for being reckless and hence them losing the match to the Northern Irish. To say they were a little hostile is like calling Putin a naughty boy. Poor man had to be escorted off the pitch after the final whistle by a couple of burley security guards.  Next day we made it to Montpellier, a city bathed in sunshine, and an atmosphere far removed from the cauldron of the previous match, including a win for Wendy’s beloved Harlequins. A few beers in Molly Malones and then parked up by the beach, where there wasn’t a dog in sight! If Carlsberg did rugby weekends, then the Heineken cup would one of them!

We are now on a countdown to our two months trip away in the camper, touring UK for a number of reasons including a family wedding, a jubilee party, some sheep-shopping, a couple of major ag shows and another stint on TV. Yes, it may be an exhausting time but we might as well shoehorn in as much as we can in the shortest time. Our three Ryeland sheep are gaining condition nicely and we have reasonably confident hopes that they won’t let the side down at the Royal Highland show in mid June. Unfortunately, as I am again on the commentary team for the event, my inexperienced wife has been tasked with the duty of exhibiting said beasts, whilst I ridicule her from the comfort of the commentators box. As if I would?   

Looking after Chauffour for the duration we have appointed a rather nice couple to house-sit, as it happens a Jamaican/Danish pairing. To get to know them better we invited them round for lunch, only to find out that he is/was a top chef and they were both vegetarian. Naturally I rose to the challenge by providing a top meal consisting of a plate of spaghetti with a few bits of fish in it but they didn’t seem to mind and the deal was sealed over a glass of chardonnay. Not only don’t they eat meat but they are also very conscious of where the food comes from, sourcing everything organic. I have offered them the use of our vegetable patch only to be declined because I admitted I occasionally use Round-Up to keep the weeds at bay. Oh well, all the more for us then. At least the lambs will be saved from the bbq until we return.

On that subject, we enjoyed a fine shoulder of lamb just yesterday, shared with friends that included my old pal, an ex-rockite who once lived on the greenway. Much reminiscing was done over a few glasses of red and probably most of this readership were talked about in one way or another, in case your ears were burning, Ed?

And with that, I must dash, due on the golf course in an hour, complete with large hat to stop my own ears burning. Four!  

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

High speed draft

 As a farmer I am conditioned to moan about something, so the fact we have far too many lambs this year is unsurprisingly a headache. Six ewes had sixteen lambs, how ridiculous? And to cap it all, the final set of triplets only has enough milk to feed one of the little blighters! I am getting too old to be feeding pet lambs so we have hopefully found someone to do that duty for us.  At least Daisy is managing her twins quite well, although she is never too far from the over-priced feed bag.

Thankfully the weather was fairly kind through lambing but the wind has since turned into the east and that always catches us here at Chauffour, with a harsh cold blow catching the field, shed, lambs and draughty side of the house. My grandfather always said "when the wind is in the east, it's neither good for man nor beast!" He wasn’t wrong there.

The same wind also took our satellite dish but, in a simple twist of fate, this happily coincided with the installation of our new Fibre-optic internet cabling. Yes, after over a year since we chopped down a row of huge pine trees to make way for its entrance, we finally have download speeds I could only ever have dreamt of. So it's goodbye sketchy Sky, hello internet TV, all 300 channels of you. Admittedly, 295 of them are complete rubbish, unless you count the red-hot Dutch ones, but at least we can watch Pointless of an evening without Zander Armstrong sounding like a Dalek! Of course, with it comes a whole direct-line to depression. War, fuel prices, bombs and dying babies don’t make for uplifting viewing, as they tug my frayed heart-strings in a dozen directions, while the world watches the horror with helpless indignation. One can't help but wonder where this post-apocalyptic apocalypse will end but, as sure as eggs is eggs, the supply and demand rule will certainly apply to the price of food. In a year when we will be away for a couple of months of the growing season, I had decided not to grow any vegetables this time around but it may be time to rethink that process, even if I have to give them away in our absence. At least we may have extra lamb on the barbie, come summer!    

The beginning of our travels will see us rock up in Lincolnshire to my number two son's wedding. As a gift, I promised to provide French wine for the event but, since the B word, this poses less of a hurdle and more of a five-bar-gate as we are no longer allowed to bring in more than a dinner-party's worth of alcohol without facing tax, duty and a host of other invisible charges. Our other option is to 'ship' it in, but with all the above charges, a three quid bottle of claret lands in UK at around a tenner. Coupled with all the other taxes we are now forced to pay when buying UK goods back into France, has Brexit really been a worthwhile decision? Asking for a friend!

Continuing on the above theme, I had hoped to import our small flock of Ryeland sheep from Scotland back here to Chauffour this year but again it seems that what were, just a couple of years ago, perfectly healthy animals now have to undergo so many unrealistic tests you would think I have bought them from a leprosy enclosure. In a period where restrictions of travel have been lifted so people can come, and go and refugees and immigrants are welcome, isn’t it time someone took a look at these ridiculous livestock rules with their sensible-specs on? I can of course import stock from Ireland to France without so much as a veterinary inspection, where obviously their animals are apparently free of everything from Scrapie to Spud disease. Yeah, right! Pull the other one, it rattles!

I mentioned a few months ago that we had applied for, and received, residency in France which means we are allowed to stay here more than three months per year without being deported. Seemingly that too is not without its Brexit implications, and we now are duty-bound to fill in an annual fifty-page tax form here declaring everything we have bought, sold, visited or seen in UK over the previous twelve months, down to the last half-pint of warm beer. Maybe I should mention that while in Scotland we have to pay upwards of eight quid for a bottle of New World wine to get anything better than stuff not fit to pour on our French fries. Would that get me a rebate? Non, Monsieur, just pay your double-tax, or bugger off back to your land of Rosbif. What a fiasco!

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Sticky times

 For once, all the plans I made and mentioned last month have actually come to fruition. Currently we are rushing around sorting out the house by the North Sea, as well as trying to enjoy our time here. Whilst here we have decorated the place and then replaced cupboards and sofas as well as adding a new all-glass coffee table which is nigh on invisible. I have the bruises on my knees to prove it! We should be heading south again sometime next week, in Wendy’s new car. No, it’s not electric or even hybrid, I’ll leave others to spend their money saving the planet, while we trail-blaze down the motorway to France with 300+ horses under the bonnet. Poo, I hear you say but, once back in France, this nice little hot-shot Merc will barely do five thou per year, and those will be mainly shopping and posing with the lid down. And that, in my mind, doesn’t require me spending extra squillions to carry a trailer load of lithium batteries under the seat, just so I can out-smug my neighbour, whilst bemoaning anyone who dares park in your allocated blue space!

Again as mentioned, we had a cracking couple of weeks in Spain last month, overlooking the Med from the seventh floor in a quite swanky apartment which cost next to nothing. The weather was mostly in the late teens but the place was deserted apart from a few folks walking dogs for Pooper to bark at. Unfortunately most of the bars and restaurants were shut too but we made our own entertainment, and dinner, as it happens. As promised to myself, I took the time to finish my latest novel which is now in the cupboard for a while until I revisit it with fresh eyes. Eventually I worked out whodunit!

Today I have sticky fingers. That is to say I have spent 20 minutes trying to glue a small plate around the stop-tap under the stairs to stop the draft blowing in. However, as with super-glue the world over, it refuses to stay put and the only bloody thing that has been stuck is my fingers, all of them, together. It is like having webbed feet, and getting them apart again has been a massive issue, involving the misuse of any number of solvents.  Hence this column is once again late to the editor as I originally reverted to typing with my elbows! On that front, the steroid injection into my shoulder joint last month seems to have worked its miracles. I even had intentions of playing golf this week although work-time has gotten in the way. A trip to the physio this morning was quite revealing and going well until the guy asked me if I have an aversion to latex! What sort of a question is that to ask your patient? ‘I’m not overly keen on cyclists,’ I replied, only to be handed a couple of bands of the stuff with which I now need to do daily stretches to rebuild my shoulder muscles. Methinks I will get enough exercise lambing a few sheep, to be honest, but I’ll humour him, for now anyway.

On the sheep front, we got to see Beatrice and Basinga last week, our two latest Ryelands who are destined for the Royal Highland and Welsh shows this summer. It’s been a long while since I was at the Welsh and I have my father’s rather large footsteps to follow in at that event, but we’ll do our best. Basinga’s mum (she came with that name) won the Highland show in 2019, so she has something to live up to as well. My good pal Robert has them in top form already but I’m not sure they were too keen being bare shorn in January, although they were considerably warmer in Scotland than they would have been in France where the weather has been absolutely baltic. Hopefully it will pick up by the time we get to lamb our few ewes at the end of the month, so Daisy Death-wish doesn’t keep battering her way out of the field in search of food! Now in her tenth year, the auld girl hasn’t done so bad, since I fished her out of a snowy ditch at 2 hours old, thinking she was a gonna. Poor Skippy is not doing quite so well though, having lost a few teeth recently. I think it may be a diet of fruit-gums for him from now on.

Our house-sitter has turned out to be something of a character. A United Nations lawyer, she has intelligent chat and enjoys a drink and the occasional argument. Hailing from Copenhagen in Denmark, she has a much better grasp of the French language than I do, and I think she is looking to call France her home from now on. Well that’s kinda handy, because we have a lot of miles to cover this year, and Hoggy needs someone he/she can control when it comes to feeding time.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Jabba Jabba

Hoorah, after over half a year I am at last back to reasonable health, albeit, about 8 stones heavier. While you were all getting you third jab, I got an extra one, with a 6-inch long needle, right into the ball joint of my shoulder and am I ever thankful for whatever was in it.  I was advised not to play sports for a few weeks, which was no big problem in this winter weather, and my rugby shirt may be a bit tight anyhow! However, I have this week, for the first time, been out cutting and collecting firewood, as we experience a deep freeze here in France. In fact, the weather has been so cold that tomorrow we are heading south to the Spanish coast for a few weeks of paella and sangria by the barrow-load. After that, assuming things have settled down, we will be in UK for a couple more weeks before coming back here again for lambing. That is, of course, if we remember to write on our immigration forms that we have just been to Spain, unlike poor old Novax, the silly sod!

Whilst in London, we are taking my son Sam to the opera, something I am pretty sure he hasn’t experienced before. I think I was his age when my father and mother dragged me to see La Boheme at the Birmingham Hippo in my rebellious Pink Floyd t-shirt! After which I was hooked on Puccini, and still am. I wonder if it will have the same effect on him? I am still not comfortable with being in an enclosed venue with hundreds of coughing people, a sad reflection on life, I suppose. Anyway, from there to collect some new wheels for the wife, a trip to Stirling Bull Sales to conduct a bit of business, then to Fife to sort out some furniture and our busy year has already sprung into life. We didn’t make it to UK for Hogmanay as planned and we were actually supposed to be in New York this weekend but everything got covid-cancelled last minute. I’m not too unhappy about the latter, not being a big fan of the US, apart from the fact that most Americans make me look thin!

On the work front, I have picked up where I left off two years ago, writing my first crime fiction novel. It makes such a refreshing change being able to make up baddies and places rather than having to stick to historical fact like I do in my day job. It sort of brings out the journalist in me! I plan on finishing it in Spain in the next fortnight, glass in hand. The plot is based around a distillery in West Scotland and uncovers a layer of corruption in the whisky industry, so if you don’t hear from me again, you will know that I stood on one too many toes and drowned in a vat of amber nectar. Damn, I have just given away the ending!  

On that point, Peter recently sent me a rant that I wrote for this magazine some years ago and, my, what an angry and controversial young man I was, bemoaning everything from the NHS to the M25. The editor even accused me of becoming mellow in my old age! So to that, I will have a mild bluster about a previous bug-bear of mine, Towny Blair: a man who has told more lies than Prince Andrew, OJ Simpson and Novak Djokovic put together. Having near bankrupted the country with his gross mis-handling of the Foot and Mouth crisis which left a staggering 6 billion pound invoice in its wake, he then took us to war, telling us he was searching for Saddam’s weapons when everyone and their dog knows it was really a testicle-holding alliance with George Bush to control the price of oil. It does make ‘forgetting you had a garden party’ sound fairly lame in comparison? Sir Tony, my arse! I wouldn’t trust that man to clean my f**kin windows!


Monday, 20 December 2021

A big wee storm

 Want to buy a Dalek? I do. But not for ten thousand quid, which is the guide price for a real one in auction this week. I wonder which spoilt child is getting that in their stocking? I have to admit it would be quite fun to be able to get inside it and drive around terrorising pensioners!

We have had a filled month, making our way to Scotland via the hell-hole that is Stanstead Airport. How can such a handy and central place deteriorate so fast into such chaos. We stayed overnight, as we often do, in the Radisson hotel which is pretty much attached at the hip to the terminal but, for reasons only known to politicians, no longer appears to employ any staff! Order your drink via an app that doesn’t work, and then watch one bewildered foreigner in an ill-fitting cheap waistcoat wander around an hour later, with no idea how to count, delivering the wrong thing. When it comes to food, a big sign says ‘we serve burgers.’ Great, I’ll get one of those then; except the burgers are only chicken or vegan! Since when did the word beef, let alone the product, become so offensive it can even be seen in public? Eventually I was press-ganged into an inedible pizza and went to bed hungry.

One of the reasons for going over was to visit the Scottish National Fatstock Show, except I am not sure we are allowed to call it that either? It’s now the ‘un-thin’ show, I guess?  With some top class animals on exhibition, it was great to watch on, as well as catch up with what appears to be a number of ‘fans’ of my podcast, many of whom had not met me in the flesh before, but knew my voice. It was a weird Bond-like feeling.  Unfortunately storm Arwen decided to rock-up that evening, which caused a few problems, not worst-of-all a lockdown in the Lanark Market Bar!

Sorrowfully, we got more news from back home, our dog wasn’t so good. Over the next day or so we got updates, but sadly, at nearly 15 years old, Louis the pointless pointer didn’t make the weekend. Losing a close pet is always a hard pill to swallow, but I am sure he wagged his tail till the end and, for those who take comfort in such things, may still be wagging it with his old pals in doggy heaven. He certainly left some indelible memories in his daftness, much of which has been documented in this column for over a decade. He won’t be forgotten.

I did get acquainted with another animal character though, one ‘Cellardyke Big Wee Eck’, to quote his Sunday name, the first Ryeland lamb we have bred, who is now 8 months old and some creature. What he lacks in size he sure makes up for in attitude and I truly believe we might to have bred a winner at our first attempt. Time will tell but, along with a few females from the new flock, he will hopefully get a walk out at some major shows next summer in his best haircut.

It was nice to get a week in our house in Fife, the first time we have been there long enough to unpack since we finished the extension. It was a bitter sweet time, taking in the above news, but we made the most of it, and enjoyed the uninterrupted view of the Forth with a few drams and some time off work. On that front, I am still up to my axles in research and writing contracts, to the point where I am turning stuff away, as my podcast is still gathering interest, both at home and overseas.

The festive season may be over once this gets published, as we career blindly into the next year and what it may bring.  If the status quo does return, we have another busy one planned, which includes two family weddings, two Atlantic trips, two national Ag shows, and at least four stag do’s.

We are now back home in France again today, this time choosing to travel through Dublin, where the covid rules are even more confused than ours. Thankfully we are still scoring negative tests, although I have a short stint in hospital next week, trying to diagnose my duff shoulder problems, which is often as good a place as any to catch a lurgy.  Christmas will be here in France this year, with just one dog and three cats, along with two vegetarians for lunch. I have no idea what they taste like!

A few days planned in Ludlow on our way back over, in the camper, and I’ll see you back in Scotland for hogmanay. Bring a piece of coal.