Tuesday 28 December 2010

Hair today, gone tomorrow

For those of you who have not seen me lately, I seem to have avoided the barbers shop for some time. Born with natural curls, my ‘barnet’ currently resembles that of a woolly mammoth. I have recently been likened to Robert Plant but without the voice, or Peter Stringfellow but without the birds, or even Shirley Temple only slightly more facetious. Although I quite like my curls, they do cause me occasional ridicule.
So while in the local pub yesterday my dear other half mentioned to a few locals, whilst I was out of ear shot, that perhaps it was time for me to have a roof-chop.  Within seconds she had drummed up support for this cause to the tune of 500 quid in donations to charity. To be precise, the Air Ambulance charity. They do such a great job in rural English areas and operate completely on charity funds with no government aid whatsoever. I was soon in a position of which there was no escape.
And so it is, as over the next few days the donations are still rolling in to sponsor the event for which a target has been set to raise a grand. The date and venue is now planned for New Years Eve in the Rock Cross Inn, Rock at 8pm. A suitable volunteer has been designated and a complete head shave is now on the cards. Hopefully, a woolly hat can also be donated!
Be there early if you want a ringside seat. Bring cash.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Snow bites

Why is it that the media insist on using sensationalist clichés every time we get a smattering of snow?
The country is gripped in a big freeze, temperatures will struggle to get above freezing! It’s called frost, it happens every year because it is winter, just get on with it.
Travel plans in disarray, hundreds of travellers stranded. Yes, its winter. Runways need to be cleared of snow. Or would they rather all die in a plane crash.
Main arteries of the country ground to a standstill? Because morons run the councils perhaps, and because only morons go out driving in the snow? Shut the roads, clear the snow, open them again? Let the lorries through first. Then the 4x4’s. Too much snow, send the drivers back home. Can’t get to work? Take a day off. Or even better, use the telephone. Simples.

Friday 17 December 2010

First Class Christmas

    Yep, we have done it again. Postponed writing out Christmas cards until the very last minute, which means they will now have to be sent first class.
    This I year I got round to wondering why we bother. I don’t mean to sound a Scrooge (although that is probably what I am) but are Xmas cards really necessary? We are not even at home this year, so they will pile up in our mailbox until I get chance to pick them up some time in January. And we won’t receive any here as nobody knows where we are living at the moment.
    We bought some really nice ones this year and I am tempted to just write a few to ourselves. ‘To us from us, hope you like the card, we chose it specially. Sorry didn’t send a present, but we didn’t know what you wanted this year.’
    See, if we all did that we would get a few nice cards and look at the money we would save on buying first class stamps at three hundred pounds each. In fact the more organised ones amongst us, you know, the ones who dig the snow from their driveway with tea spoon so they can chug off to work for the government and clutter up the roads. Well they could give themselves theirs early to save money.
We also wouldn’t have to queue up at the village Post Office catching germs from all the sniffling people for 3 hours. 3 bloody hours to the only desk that is open because the Post Mistress has caught flu from the bloody organised people in the queue last week. She is probably sitting at home by the glowing fire writing bloody Christmas cards and watching Jeremy bloody sodding Kyle.
The good old smiling postie wouldn’t have to brave the bracing weather and be dug out of snowdrifts by men in fluorescent jackets, delivering illegible hand written envelopes with only half a post code because the sender couldn’t be arsed to look it up on line. As always, it makes perfect sense to me.
OK, Merry Christmas everyone!

PS anyone wishing to know our address please email me!

Monday 13 December 2010

Cow Factor

It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The snowy weather in Scotland has contained me indoors in this old seaside cottage for a good while now. I started by passing the time doing a jigsaw I found in the cupboard. It took me a couple of days to finish it. I am quite pleased with that as it said 3-5 years on the box!
The remainder of the time has been allocated to the completion of my second novel which has just been sent off for proofing. The book is called In the Company of Animals and picks up with Princess the young cow, the extraordinary character who was central to my first novel, The Right Colour.
The books are now building into a series about Princess and her pals, telling colourful tales of some of their exploits, aimed at a younger audience. In this second book, Princess breaks out of jail along with her two friends, Goliath, a very shy bull, and Jackson, a psychopathic sheep. Their adventures lead them over some tricky terrain when they eventually take shelter with some gypsies and are offered for sale at a large Horse Fair.
I am now well into the third book in this series, entitled Cow Factor, when the Princess and her gang get chance to feature on a TV show. There are at least two more books to come after that in this series which we hope to release for sale in Autumn 2011.
The series may not end there either. As long as I can keep making myself laugh out loud whilst I write them, I hope the end will not be in sight for some time yet.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Grand Ideas?

What is it with that programme Grand Designs? I used to enjoy people's quirky ideas of a building a fabulous new house with loads of natural light and stunning views. I was even inspired by it when I designed our own barn conversion, a 10 metre high wooden structure with a glass front and balcony.
So just when did Kevin McLeod turn into an eco-tit and the program spiral out of control towards the green party? When was it that suddenly the only way to get on the show was to be a complete and utter fruitcake?
 On one recent programme, an imbecile decided to build a house he had seen on the back of a yoghurt pot! To make things worse he had absolutely no building experience whatsoever. A water mill, on stilts on the side of a 30 degree slope in the hills with no natural water within 5 miles. What a feckin eejut!?
 The show before that a man built one out of straw bales. Great. I used to do that too. When I was 8 years old. I hope he has plenty of eco-friendly rat poison!
People drive 100 miles in a lorry to get three pieces of recycled cardboard to build an internal wall because it is more ‘eco-friendly’ than plaster board. Never mind the fact that the lorry has just gassed half of the country and used 40 gallons of fuel to fetch it.
And let’s put some turf on the roof. What’s that about? Who is going up there to mow the lawn?
I know, here’s a good idea, lets build a house under ground. What!? Have you seen a mole close too? It can’t see because it has had to squint in the dark all its life.
Please get this rubbish off our screens before this man is certified and committed!

Monday 6 December 2010

où est le pain ?

Living in France for 5 years now, bread is one thing that is taken for granted. We pop to the Boulanger every morning and pick up a crusty French loaf that has been baked on the premises that day and still warm. We generally don’t eat the whole loaf fresh and the remainder of it is either blended up for bread-crumbs or fed to the animals. We have a couple of bird tables, 3 sheep and a pond full of hungry fish so it always gets used. Everybody in France does the same.
In contrast, the UK has one of the lowest bread consumptions in Europe. By comparison the bread here is awful at the very best of times, all pre-packed, already a few days old and tasteless. It goes stale after about 10 minutes if not kept in a plastic bag and turns to mush if frozen and defrosted. Yes, it makes good toast and is it ‘easy’ to construct a sandwich from it, in the same way that it is ‘easy’ to make gravy from granules or bolognaise from a jar. British people rarely eat bread with their meals and in my experience most keep commit the unforgivable sin of keeping it in the fridge so a whole loaf can last a week. By this definition, the British nation does not love bread.
So why, oh why, oh why is it that as soon as a little bit of snow comes around, every British person rushes to the shop and buys 5 loaves and a dozen bread rolls? It amazes me.
Do they suddenly get the urge to eat toast? Or make a bread and butter pudding and a dozen rounds of sandwiches? Are they perplexed at the thought of not being able to make a sandwich for at least a day until the next delivery gets through the snow, despite having a cupboard full of pot-noodles as backup.
What is wrong with people? It’s not just bread either, they rush out and buy milk by the tanker load and enough fresh vegetables to accompany 20 Sunday roasts. Didn’t they go shopping last week? Why cant people organise themselves to shop for groceries once a week? At the very worst, in the most rural of areas, villages may be cut off for up to 3 days. In towns, more realistically it could be one day at the absolute most. Thirty years ago, before we all had freezers then shopping only once a week may have been a little harder. But nowadays, surely we can survive for a day.
As the snow falls in this remote village for the second time in a week, I was the fool who didn’t buy 10 loaves last week and now I have to visit an empty shop in despair. The lady apologises and says that they still haven’t managed to catch up with supplies after last week’s panic buying. Maybe I can buy some on ebay? Otherwise, I will just have to eat cake!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Heading North for winter.

As winter sets in firmly in our district in France, this year Wendy and I have decided to spend some of it in Scotland. My reasoning is, if we are going to have some winter, let’s have some real winter. Logical? Well possibly not. After a very long drive we are now ensconced in a small cottage by the sea near Edinburgh, one that is well insulated with instant heating. In short, one that is warm. Outside there is currently a foot of snow and I am maybe considering this decision to be a wee bit rash. But then taking the dogs for a run on the beach, stopping for a pint of real ale in a cosy pub with an open fire on the way back, having a chat to a neighbour; these are a few things that have been denied to us of late so it all makes a refreshing change. I am also using the time to write another novel.
A long drive through France will inevitably find you taking a quick stop at one of its motorway service stations. A service station that does what it is designed to do. A pleasantly attractive cashier, well dressed, with bright eyes and a gleaming smile welcomes you in. Inside you can sort through an array of snacks at reasonable prices, get a hot beverage and use the toilet facilities. You can sift through a small selection of magazines about general subjects such as motoring, gardening and fishing. One magazine entitled “Tampons, made easy” did make me raise an eyebrow, but seemingly it was just something to do with crochet. I will admit, that while drinking our coffee I noticed that the lady next to me sported a nice Louis Vuiton bag out of which was poking the head of a small bug eyed dog. But the French can surely be excused that little vice, the one that allows them to wear pets as a fashion accessory? All in all, I have to say that a motorway service station in France is a reasonably pleasant and quite painless experience.
However….having made it on to UK soil, the time came once more to stop into a service station, to let out our dogs to stretch their legs etc. So I thought I would make a few observations for a comparison.
The first thing you notice is the lack of pleasant staff, it appears that these places only offer employment to the under-educated rotund creatures who would be a shoe-in for a part in Stephen Spielberg’s next horror movie. The ill-fitting cheap uniforms and baseball caps add a certain status to these people, relieving them of any sense of dignity they may once have had, along with any sense of humour and manners. I am drawn into the grossly over priced WH Smith store where I am confronted with racks full of so many magazines it would take me a week just to read all the titles. Someone should publish a magazine for magazine buyers, one that might guide me towards a suitable selection from the thousands on offer. I am baffled as to who buys all this stuff, glossy publications  with titles such as ‘Airfix for amateurs’ and “Britain’s next tin-opener”. To pass the time, I consider what may interest me and decide perhaps something about tractors might suffice, me being the owner of a vintage model Ford. After some desperate searching I glance up to that forbidden top shelf, you know the one where all the illicit ladies dare to bare flesh on the front cover? Low and behold, I see it, ‘Classic Tractor’ nestled between ‘Big Boobs’ and ‘Tickle fetish’. Since when has a tractor magazine contained adult content? Why oh why did they have to place it up there? I dare not reach up for it in case of being spotted. I am so shocked, my embarrassment colours my face red as I sidle away empty handed avoiding glares from old ladies branding me as a pervert.
I am amazed at the size of the huge shopping mall and attempt to head in the direction of something to eat. I negotiate my way through women leaping out at me proffering leaflets on subjects such as ‘socialising with god’ or ‘saving a small Ugandan child from starvation’. I reply in French and they let me pass. I reach the drinks outlet aptly named Costa. Costa-packet by the looks of it. I am completely baffled by the endless list of variations on a simple cup of coffee. Latte and Cappuccino with added spices such as vanilla, basil and chilli. They come in different sizes, small, medium or 3 gallon bucket size that would keep me awake for about 4 years. In France, un café is a sufficient order, here the choice is so vast that I consider heading back to the magazine racks to buy a copy of ‘Ordering coffee for beginners’ to help me with my choice. “YES?” barks the immigrant waitress, “Umm, I am still making up my mind” I mumble, embarrassed once again. She ignores me and moves on to the more savvy customer behind me who smugly orders a cocktail of various coffee beans and sophisticated additives. Totally confused, my appetite for coffee dissapears and I move on in search of food.
A neon sign for Burgerland draws me into a booth where once again I am faced with a choice of a million variations on a standard beef-burger. I choose an Angus burger which arrives instantly. It is the size of a small family car. Once more a barrage of questions which defy logic come hurtling in my direction. ‘Would I like a meal?’ I am asked. ‘Uhh, OK’ I reply, wondering what the other options might be. ‘Would I like to GO LARGE?’ What? What could be larger than this? Cathedral size perhaps? With extra lard and a 4 acre field of potato chips? I decline and my server looks quite disappointed. Judging by his physique he has ‘gone large’ a few too many times himself as his sausage-like fingers count out my miniscule change.
I sit on the spindly chair trying to negotiate my feast, spurts of sauce flying out in all directions as I attempt to bite into it, grease dripping down my shirt. The bread has a similar consistency to the box it comes in. One bite is enough for me. If it was Angus, then I suspect it was from an Angus cow that had probably died of old age or possibly anorexia. I eat the chips and head back for the car. As I pass the nice coloured lady I offer the remnants of my burger for her to give to this poor starving child she is campaigning about. In fact I go one step further and suggest to her that if she gathers up all the left over angus-burgers from the nearby stall, in no time at all her poor starving child would soon be as fat as Idi Amin or whichever terrorist was running that country these days.
After a 17 hour journey, we arrived in Rock to stay for a few days. Any of you who frequent the Rock Cross Inn will have noted it now has new proprietors who have settled in quickly and are doing a roaring meal trade. I wish them all the very best. You may also have noticed that the pub has lost one of its loyal customers too, that of a canine variety. Sadly Honey, Val Frazier’s friendly dachshund passed away earlier this month aged 13.
 Before heading to Scotland, we visited the Royal Welsh winter fair in Builth Wells. It had been 10 years since I was last there and my mission was to do a bit of promotion for my new book amongst a few of my old cattle showing mates. We certainly picked an interesting day to go, our picturesque drive through the snowy Welsh mountains was stunning. However, I considered the car’s thermometer to be malfunctioning when it decreased down to eleven degrees below freezing. Until we stepped outside that is. Apparently earlier that morning it had been minus 17! The rows of cattle and sheep were quite well prepared for this weather in their winter jackets. Two people just arriving from South France were definitely not. Fortunately there was an enterprising stall selling thermal socks and hats to help us through and we had a nice day. What I did find different after a ten year absence is the amount of people who now speak Welsh. It seems that it has been a compulsory subject in schools for a while which in its self is possibly a good thing, upholding tradition and all that. But why speak it constantly in public, is this strictly necessary? Come to think of it, what use is speaking Welsh anyway? Would it not be more productive for a small country, one that has little to offer other than sheep, to speak a more universally accepted language if it is to succeed in the modern world? Am I the only one who believes that this blinkered approach is very much a retrograde step for a country campaigning for its independence? The European banks are already bailing out Ireland, will it be Wales next?
Whilst there I picked up on an article relaying a speech from Wales’s newly appointed Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, which I read in disbelief. I will quote it directly.
“I want Welsh agriculture to be a modern industry. I want Welsh farmers on their tractors listening to Lady GaGa on their ipods and comparing beef cost-to-price ratios on their ipads in the local mart,” she told NFU Cymru’s annual conference.
Excuse me? Has she ever met a Welsh farmer? All the ones I know wouldn’t know an i-pod from a pea pod! And the only GaGa Lady they will ever listen to is you madam. And not for very long either!

Sunday 21 November 2010

Writing the right writings

I have always loved to write, perhaps too often enjoying the sight of my own words as well as the sound of my own voice. The idea of writing a book was always somewhere in my mind and I knew it would happen one day. However, as with many budding writers I had little or no idea what would happen once it was finished. Who to sell it to, how to sell it, where to promote it, how much money to throw at it? These and many other questions were things I never considered. Having completed it by Spring, my time was then reassigned to my day job, that and house renovation and gardening etc. So it was Autumn when my attention once more returned to the written word, 90,000 of them to be precise.
Firstly I picked out a list of agents from the internet and canvassed them all, possibly 50 or so, many of whom said they may not reply for up to 12 weeks. 12 weeks? What were these people doing, this was their job as agents to read material surely and I didn’t buy the excuse that they were just too busy? One or two agents were a bit more on the ball and the refusals started to arrive daily, mostly being apologetic that the current market was bad or it wasn’t their kind of stuff etc. One or two recommended other agents or even publishers, which was kind of them. A very helpful agency in Edinburgh actually replied in person, explaining a few basics to me which, once I digested the setback, were pretty obvious. In fact other people may have mentioned these earlier but back then I wasn’t prepared to listen as I was too arrogant to value any unprofessional opinions.
What I learned from this agent, I will not divulge their name at the point as I hope to go back to them again, was that book markets are very very specific. And the more specific they are, the easier they are to market to. Up until that point I had assumed that the wider the appeal, the bigger the market. No so.
My book, it seemed, fell between two stools, 3 or 4 possibly. Too grown up for children, too childish for adults, too flippant for serious readers, not funny enough for comedy, these were all things I heard despite not wanting to. It became evident that although many of my friends had enjoyed it, it wasn’t going to be a best seller. I possibly knew that already but to be told it was a bit of a shock. Ok, what to do? Well firstly I was aware that my book would appeal to a certain audience and it was too good to give up on. I picked a learned friend to edit it which was essential. I then chose the self publishing route which was, I have to say, a lot easier than I thought it would be, producing a paperback copy within a few weeks.  I then used online tools such as Facebook to gain some free publicity and awareness. With a continual effort and a bit of advertising investment the book started to move, especially as it was prior to Xmas. Low and behold the reviews I got back were very good. I had been quite correctly advised not to expect to sell it to all my Facebook friends, many who duly ticked the LIKE button without actually buying, others waiting for another time and possibly more recommendation than just from the author himself. I set myself small milestones to achieve and a basic plan. Living in France was a bit of a drawback as visiting UK events and making personal contact was not so easy and came at a cost. Spurred on by the small number of sales I was achieving, I decided to make those trips, to wander amongst people I knew and offer them a leaflet, so they could buy online. I also took a few copies with me and signed them personally. I even grew my hair in an attempt to make conversation and get me noticed. The first 100 sales is just on the horizon now and although far away from the thousands I was hoping to sell, it is encouraging enough to keep me at it.
What I also learned from that agent was that to be successful I had a lot to learn about writing too. I had decided to tone down the sequel to my first novel towards children, possibly 10-12 year olds. He directed me to a couple of books about writing for children which were invaluable and my next book became a totally different animal, literally. He also told me to read read read, especially children’s books, simple but effective advice. I then found myself writing two books simultaneously, one a children’s book, the other a biography. To add to this, I was reading three books at once. Writing two, reading three, selling one, a mission of missions and a tiring one at that. In between that I kept a diary, wrote a professional column once a month and a blog once a week. Who ever said writing was an easy way to earn a living? Well nobody, I don’t think, but it is a common misconception all the same. The biog and the blog were quite easy to write as I could write as me and this is something I have little difficulty in doing. Distractions were not really an issue, music on, dogs barking, Wendy on the phone, I could still keep going. The children’s one, that is far more difficult, because the only way to create a place, character or situation is to be there, right in amongst the action, seeing the colours and semelling the smells. It takes solitude and concentration. But hell, is it ever fun, I mean laugh out loud fun. To make others laugh is satisfying, to make yourself laugh out loud, that has to be the best of all. I have set myself a target to complete two children’s books in my trilogy over this winter. I have to admit it is a bit selfish, partly because it means me spending a lot of time on my own and partly because it is a job I love to do and I can’t really share it. But most of all, I have self belief and the drive that it takes to keep modifying the course in order to succeed as a writer and will not take no for an answer to that quest.

Friday 19 November 2010

Auction marts and blondes with attitude

A long while ago I remember having a conversation with John Thorley, secretary of the National Sheep Association about more and more animals being sold on the dead weight. At the time, an advocate direct sales, I defended the birth of the new on-farm stock selection system and ‘buying groups’ trading direct with slaughterhouses. John’s argument was that we should always maintain the use of the livestock auction system and that auction was the only true way of setting a market price. He also went on to wax on about how great the auction mart system was in UK and that we were the only country in Europe to have this benefit. At the time I argued that the auction system was outdated, with too many middlemen taking a financial cut out of the end product.
Some 20 years later I find myself living on a smallholding in rural France where they do not have the luxury of a local mart and I have to say that it one of the few things I miss about the UK. At the very least, it is a social gathering of like minded souls. Having been a pedigree sheep breeder all my life, I spent over year looking for our first sheep purchases. Eventually, through contact from friend of a friend we visited an old boy who had been breeding Charmoise sheep, some 50 kms away. He had little understanding of English and my schoolboy French, although improving year on year, was not up to translating the intimate details of gigot, muscle depth and bone ratios. We did a deal, me doing my best to keep the price down, but I have to say I had absolutely no idea what these animals were worth and am sure I paid over the odds.
Sadly, the sheep were killed a year later by stray dogs, a day we would rather forget. After a while, I was on the lookout again for more stock, but how? If I was back in UK, I would pop down to the mart once a week for a few weeks, to get an idea of prices, make some contacts and possibly pick up what I required. I cannot do that here and have ended up buying a mishmash of 3 ewes and a charollais ram from a friend who was struggling to look after them.
I am also on the lookout for a heifer, just something plainly bred but with a bit of shape. The farms around here are all stocked with Blonde d’Aquitaine and, at the risk of upsetting a few people, I don’t like them, with their long legs and bad attitude. I would prefer to pick up a Limousin from the region 3 hours up the road, which I intend to cross with imported angus semen to breed an annual cross calf for the freezer. I am finding this task virtually impossible. Yes I could go to their annual pedigree sale and buy one for a few thousand but that is not within my budget. My only chance is to go knocking on doors to see if they have stock for sale. As you can well imagine, an Englishman doing this on a French farm is not the most cost effective way of trading.
So, in reflection, John Thorley, you absolutely are correct when you say that the auction mart is the backbone of the UK livestock industry. From time to time, farmers in UK may need to be reminded of this.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Man on a mission, the potted version.

The self confessed statement of 'I grew up on a farm' is a condition that never leaves you: 'you can take the man from the farm but never the farmer out from the man'. And so, as a second son leaving the family farm in my late twenties and working my way through various agricultural careers, I eventually found myself involved in corporate business. I had an office in the city, commuted by train in a suit, rubbing shoulders with folks I neither knew, understood nor liked. I sometimes discussed with my peers the days gone by when I groomed champions, or flew a herd of cattle to Australia, but it only met with disbelief. Let’s just say, what I was doing I did for the money. I connived to find time to still enjoy breeding and showing a few livestock but fitted it around a day job, as I raised my flocks of texel and hebredian sheep. I managed to keep an active involvement in a few major shows too and was even deputy chief cattle steward at Royal Smithfield show for a while. But I was never free.
I am not sure what exactly made me snap, but one day, the moment arrived for me to say enough is enough; I always knew it would come. What I was left with was unemployment alongside a bag full of memories, experiences many folk could never even dream of. That and a new life, to do with what I pleased.
What I pleased to do was to do less, and enjoy more. That is what drove me to buy a smallholding in South Western France, with a big old house, 3 hectares of grassland and orchards, long sunny days and a woman I wanted to share it with. I now have only 4 sheep, one which has the horns of a Norfolk, the others just mediocre ewes serving a purpose. I collect the fruit to make preserves and this year hosted the first and highly successful Aquitaine chutney festival, a gathering of chutneyheads to compete for the coveted prize of pickle of the year. Although Wendy keeps a day job, we are more or less self sufficient. My summer days are busy with building and renovating the house and my winter days are busier still, filled with writing.
My first novel called on my experiences as a cattle stockman in search of that holy grail, supreme champion of the Royal Smithfield show. Seen through the eyes of the animal, it tells a unique tale of a calf overcoming adversity and setting out on a special journey towards her destiny. I was never exactly sure who would buy it, but buy it they have, and judging by the positive feedback I constantly receive, they have all enjoyed it, young and old. It is called the Right Colour.
I have since moved on to children’s fiction, again using my livestock experience to create a series of books about farm animals and their adventures. It is truly the best job anyone could ever have.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Ranting for November 2010

November 2010

Is it me, or does time just go by in a whir these days? No sooner its Monday then the weekend looms. No sooner I get up than its time to think about bed. No sooner I write this monthly article than a copy of R&DN drops onto my doormat, signalling the end of yet another month, dammit. No sooner its January then old Scrooge here thinks of ways he can avoid Christmas this year. What to do this time? I have tried hiding, staying in bed, even being blind drunk, but none of these afford me the luxury of escaping those goddam annoying jingles that signify the arrival of the bearded bloke in the bright suit. No not Noel Edmonds, the other one.
Last year I gave a mention to some mysterious looking facial hair cropping up on the top lips of some celebrities and sportsmen around this time of year. This month I have gone one further and joined the Movember ranks myself and grown a ‘mo’ for the charity that raises awareness of men’s health issues. So if you see me around, or anyone else sporting an out-of-character moustache give them a few quid for their efforts. Thanks.
The late autumn at Chauffour brings us ripening apples. Louis, our (pointless) pointer, likes apples. In fact he likes them so much that he lies by the door and whines all day, a whine like a whistling kettle that goes right through you, until he is let out to go and eat as many as he can before we can stop him. An apple-a-day may keep the doctor away, but a crate-a-day can only involve some hefty vet’s bills. It did this time last year. He doesn’t just eat them either; he engages some sort of bizarre antic which involves him throwing them in the air and jumping about like a lunatic beforehand. I never have considered that he is quite the full-shilling, but it seems he has at last lost the plot altogether. A mad March hare is a sight to behold, but nothing compared to a crazy autumn sub-normal canine with a single figure IQ, doing an apple-dance. Maybe we should send a video in to ‘Animals-do-stupid-stuff’ or whatever that programme is called. Or possibly the X-Factor! Come to think of it, Simon Cowell would probably give him a record deal.
The time has come round again to give worming tablets to the animals. In the olden days this was always a tricky job as even the dimmest of animals wouldn’t eat a nasty tasting small pill. But nowadays it’s all changed as some bright scientist has realised that if you make the tablet taste nice, any animal will eat it. Except ours! Louis the pointless pointer, no problem, he will eat anything; but the scruffy one with the brains, no chance. She was suspicious from the off, noticing a packet being opened while we pretended not to look at her. First tablet she took outside and buried it in the garden. Next one, sprinkled in her dinner, persuaded her that she wasn’t hungry that day. Hold her down, shove it in, out it comes. Wrap it up in some tasty cooked meat, out it comes. A nightmare? Well, to anyone who has this problem, I can now reveal the solution. Simply give it to the cat. How dare the cat have something she hasn’t got? Dog stole it and wolfed it down in an instant. Job done. I really should charge for this ingenious information.
I note last week the announcement of the Lonely Planet awards, in which the Shetland Islands were the winners. Now there’s a surprise? You really couldn’t get anywhere much lonelier that there surely, with possible exception of Greenland or a summer day in the House of Commons. So what are these awards about? When reading in more detail, it actually says that this is one of the top regions in the world to visit next year, according to their new guidebook. Have these people ever been there? Underneath this statement is a description of the place which says, and I quote: “…a collection of mighty, wind-ravaged clumps of brown and green earth rising from the frigid waters of the North Sea…” Well, I’ll just go and pack then shall I? Should I take an overcoat do you think? My experience of Shetland is a complete absence of trees and vegetation, women with long grey hair, spinning wheels and goats. All from Yorkshire or Norfolk; except possibly the goats.
Does anyone get chance to watch Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals on early evening TV? We do most evenings. 30 minutes they may well be, if you happen to have all that stuff in your fridge and at least a dozen pots of herbs growing on your windowsill. 30 minutes cooking, but how long shopping first? And what about the cost? “Lets take some caviar, a whole lump of fresh parmesan cheese, some prime fillet steak and fresh guava fruit...and stir it up with this lovely spoon…”. 30 minute meals? 30 quid meals more like! And while we are at it, let’s use every pan in the kitchen, along with a few gadgets. What I want to know is who does the washing up? And how long does it take? A damn sight longer than 30 minutes I bet!
The time has also come round for the opticians. Our old French farmhouse is designed to be cool in the summer, by having thick walls and very few windows. This time of year it is not only cold but, in a word, dark. Reading by firelight may sound romantic to some, but as age creeps up on me, I find halogen is the only way to go. As I type, I have a set of spotlights arranged around my keyboard like some sort of studio film set. But sadly the eyes are still straining. So a trip to the friendly optician in the local French town was required. Friendly, well she was certainly smiling as she relieved me of 150 euros for a pair of reading glasses. She will probably send me a Christmas card now; I’ll pretend I cant read it!
For the last few months in this column I have banged on about the weather in this part of the world. More specifically, that we were expecting rain any day, and last month I gaily announced that it had arrived. Not so. We had one days drizzle and then back to the lovely dry days once more. If we were in UK I am sure this would by now have sparked a panic hosepipe ban, but here nobody seems too bothered, except our fish. With only half a metre of water left in a 4 metre deep pond, the thousand strong shoal are having a bit of a housing issue. Apparently, during such crowded times, they eat each other! There you go, Grant Shapps, your UK housing problems solved in an instant. I really should be in politics!