Friday 14 July 2017

Daisy La Tour

   Today is July 14th, a not insignificant date in the French calendar as it marks the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, an event that did as much for Gillette Razors as Easter did for 4 inch nails. As you can imagine, the local peasants still enjoy celebrating their ancestors ‘revolting’ act by barbequing some wildlife and swilling down the local hooch. But this year our nearby neighbours have had 2 days to get swallied within one week, as we also had the bonus of La Tour de France passing right by our door a couple of days ago. Now I have to say I am not big on cycling but, as you may well be aware, I am big on partying. So an occasion like this was not one to be missed as we once more dusted off the sheep trailer and invited all our friends along to a street party – in the middle of the road. Not one but four shoulders of lamb found their way into the oven for 18 hours and then subsequently onto the bbq prior to our sit down, once the main roads had been closed to allow 200 cyclists to pass. In all, said lamb fed 29 guests as well as one fat policeman, as we revelled for a good few hours of flag waving on the side of the highway, buoyed on by copious amounts of red wine. However, forget Chris Frome or Mark Cav, the star of this year’s show was very much the one-and-only Daisy Death-wish who made a guest appearance, complete with polka dot jersey. Installed in a 6 foot square pen on the grass verge, the bemused creature stamped her foot at passers by, most of whom stopped to take her photograph, including the official La Tour journalist. Thankfully there was plenty of bread and water melon on offer so she didn’t do too badly out of the deal although, when the sun came out, she did look rather embarrassed in her yellow hat with holes cut out for her ears!
   On the subject of sheep, this year we have had almost a perfect summer for them, as we seem to get heavy rain storms every few days and the grass is growing so fast they can barely keep up. Sadly so are the thistles which are bidding for a takeover since the wheel broke on the topper. I think I mentioned we had a new addition of a ram last month? He has now been named Rafa – after the 10 times French Open tennis champion - and is settling in nicely in his own field awaiting his ‘induction’ with the females in September. I am not quite sure what he will make of one wearing a red polka dot dress, but I doubt Daisy will be slow in chatting him up when the big day comes!
   Other news this month is that we have now completed the project in Fife, or thought we had. Unfortunately, a few minutes before the valuer arrived to inform us of what little profit my hard work had earned, a torrent of water started pouring in through the kitchen ceiling! Eventually the leak was pinpointed to a rotten section in the dormer window, so we now have scaffolding up, awaiting a joiner to take out the window and replace the offending piece of wood, and praying for no more rain. Oh well, back to the drawing board. We still managed a small celebration of our efforts, as we at last breathed some life back into a building that had sat empty for 15 years, with some loud music and singing. Think we might need to sell-up and move on now, though, as the neighbours were none too impressed with our shenanigans at 2am!
   Every time I consider I am getting too old for this hard work, another un-missable opportunity presents itself. This time a pair of derelict fishermen’s cottages on the edge of the Firth have caught my eye, so watch this space. Not sure where I will find the time, money or energy to restore them back their former glory; I may have to dig very deep on this one.
Usually mid-summer, and July in particular, is reserved for some down time to spend with visitors so it has been nice to have both my sons here in France over the past few weeks, along with their mates. The pool and pizza oven have been put through their paces, as has the beer fridge. In a clever piece of marketing, one brand of beer is celebrating its 70th birthday by printing a different year of its existence on the cap of each bottle. To start with this just whiled away a few seconds of attention to the lads but, as the collection grew, it rapidly developed into an obsession. Soon they were back at the store, buying more pallets of the stuff so they could complete the entire set – exactly the course of action that the manufacturers would be looking to incite. Sadly the collection is still 3 numbers short, and the guests have all left now. So, it is up to me to keep the search going until we find 1970, 1984 and 2001. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it!
If I wasn’t such a cynical old bugger, I might suggest that Kronenbourg never actually printed those ones at all.  I can but check, though! 

Thursday 13 July 2017

A visit to Dr PooPoo

  It looks as if we are destined for the record books here in France, with the hottest June ever recorded and temperatures soaring into the high thirties. Well, at least that is what the forecast says, whereas in reality we are currently getting daily thunderstorms, clattering away the dry air, scaring the hell out of the dogs and filling the pool with debris. I will admit, to help with the latter, this year we have employed Dexter, who scrubs away tirelessly underwater, cleaning up the algae, dead leaves and insects. No, he is not a local serf, but a labour-saving robot, as neither my wife nor I manage to find enough time to take on the maintenance task. I love work, I could watch it all day!
  We also have another new man in the fold, this time of the woolly variety, as we have just purchased a new stock ram, having sold Roger on to another flock earlier in the year. I have to say this new chap, as yet un-named, is quite a fine specimen whom we picked out from a nearby flock of Charollais. I don’t always admit to being wily, but when it comes to choosing stock I learned well from my father. The farmer showed us the 3 ram lambs he had for sale and I looked them over, nodding appreciatively when, from the corner of my eye, I spotted another lamb, out in the yard with the rest of the flock. ‘What about that one?’ I suggested. ‘Not for sale, I am keeping him as a ram for my own flock, monsieur.’ Aha. Then that’s the very one we want to buy! And we did.
  You may recall that last month, in fact for the last six, I have been working on a renovation project in Scotland, which is now more or less complete. However, a few days into my last trip I had a run-in with an electric power-tool, it winning the day and ripping a hole in my leg in the process. Too wide to sew up with conventional stitches, the nice nurse pulled the wound together with some paper strips which lasted all of about 3 hours before they fell off under the strain. That was over 4 weeks ago and still the weeping open wound is enough to put you off your breakfast, preventing me going in the swimming pool - a minor set-back that the rest of my work-force were very unsympathetic with! Not that I am whinging, but this is the second June in a row I have had this issue, as last year it was a case of shingles that prevented my aqua-activity. Coupled with this trauma I now have acute back-pain, possibly brought on by walking around on one leg for weeks. A visit to Doctor Poopoo – yes, that is his real name – to get some painkillers resulted in him throwing a wobbly when he saw the state of my leg. Whereas in Scotland, I had been advised to keep the wound open to let the air heal it, here in France they are still quite Dickensian in such matters, wrapping everything in mummy-like bandaging until gangrene sets in. Seriously, I could see him setting up the saw-bench and providing a leather strap for me to bite on if I had stayed around much longer! Anyway, the upshot of all this is that, for once, I am confined to life in the slow lane for a while, something which has been frequently suggested for some time by those around me.  
  Despite the endless list of jobs which keep amassing in front of me, apart from shearing the sheep - a task for which I canvassed the help of a fit young chap half my age - I am doing my best to ignore them all. This affords me some time to sit in front of the TV, catching up with the tennis, rugby and golf, as well as the aftermath of yet another farcical electoral result which leaves nobody in charge of Britain’s dinner money. It appears that the only way to govern from on-high in such situations is to invite the loonies to help run the asylum, and then pat them on the head and offer them a wooden chair in the corner in the hope they don’t try and enforce their own outrageous homophobic racist policies in the process. Shame we couldn’t revert back to Cromwell’s day where a hung parliament meant exactly that, as they swung by the neck quietly in the breeze, amid a swarm of blow-flies!         Wouldn’t that make a pleasant sight for London’s cyclists?
On the subject of bikes, I note that the city of Dublin is considering banning the bicycles from their streets as the Road Safety Organisation admits they are unsafe. Really? Whatever gave you the idea that 2 wheelers ducking and weaving in and out of fast moving trucks and cars, and jumping red traffic lights was a health hazard? In an article in the Dublin Times, a particularly articulate spokesman for Cycle Weekly says, and I quote, “If there was proper cycle lanes, people would use them. Ours are just painted white lines on the side of the road!” As opposed to what, I ask myself? Raised gantries, people-free pavements or traffic-less roads perhaps?  He further added that “sometimes there is so much congestion that it is quicker to walk..” Hoorah for common sense, enforce the ban right now and get Europe back on its feet. Except, of course, this wouldn’t include England, would it? They are far too clever. C’est la vie, Patrick, we stand together on this one.


Dusting off the Claymores again

  People often refer to budget flight as travelling ‘cattle class’. I can assure you, having escorted a number of cattle on planes around the world in my younger days, that cattle are treated far better than us mere humans when it comes to aviation. Yes, once again I am traversing the channel with Ryanair and boy, is it tedious.  Bovine beasts are also nicer to each other, don’t push and shove half as much and, in general, smell better too. Honestly, it is easier to load a 100 head of inbred Limousin stirks on to a cardboard barge than fill a 737 full of numpties with the combined IQ of an egg sandwich.    Ordinarily, I try and avoid travelling in the busy season but this trip North is to conclude the remaining outstanding jobs on our project in Fife, cracking the whip loudly because nobody seems to do any work as soon as I am off site. In fact, perhaps I should bring a cattle prod with me to liven up the workforce, then at least I could to get my cramped airline seat ahead of the stampede.
  The France I leave behind has had a few weeks of political turmoil, resulting in yet another smooth respectable president in charge, although his spouse is already in the headlines and I suspect it will only be a few months before he gets photographed with his mistress. The country I am currently passing over at a mile high, England, also has a similar upheaval in the corridors of power, keeping the pundits in overtime pay and the TV channels cluttered with wannabe cabineteers. However, it is the country for which I bound that gives me more of a headache, for yet again a minority is attempting to stir up the past, Claymore in hand, to fight the auld foe, only this time the troops are headed up by one of the Krankies! With shameless self-interest, I was more than glad that the last referendum finished with its NO vote, as I had just invested some hard earned cash in a few properties in a run-down part of Glasgow. Over the next year or so, in a settling economy, the housing market steadily picked up and, for once, my gamble was on the right horse. But now everything Scottish is balancing on such a realm of uncertainty that even Mystic MacMeg would struggle to predict the outcome, and with my wallet caught firmly in the crossfire. Are we heading for a Franco-Scot alliance perhaps, with Macaroons and Sturgeons jointly headlining on the same menu? Or will a Scoxit mean everything north of Carlisle deteriorates into a country more third-world than a Syrian allotment by the end of the decade? If Nicola has her way, by the time Danny Boyle gets to making Trainspotting 3, will there actually be any trains to spot in Scotland’s capital?  Or will the wheels of industry have long since headed southwards from the platform? It is all as alarming as it is confusing for an old sheep farmer such as myself. Unfortunately I cannot spell Armageddon, but that’s not the end of the world!
  I think I need a stiff drink! ‘That will be ten euros, please,’ says our yellow-attired in-flight cabin-attendant, service with a scowl.
  So, it’s back to the Kingdom of Fife once again for a few week’s graft. I do love the fact that Fife has retained that title through all the country’s ups and downs. A long while ago the wild and rebellious race of Picts ran around the place causing mayhem until a self appointed King took charge and ruled them from Dunfermline palace with a red-hot poker. Although his seat got lost to the SNP sometime in the Middle Ages, the county’s handle still remains. Britain doesn’t have many Kingdoms, in fact this may even be its only one. That makes me quite proud to live there, albeit part-time, until, of course, it is taken away and thrown to the wolves of independence, complete with baby and bathwater. Just saying.
  While in Ecosse we will also get chance to take in the European rugby cup final in Edinburgh and, when I get back, my ever-thoughtful wife has treated us to a couple of tickets at the French Open Tennis in Paris. I am not quite sure when it was that I turned into a Live Sports junkie but I have to admit, watching professionals at the top of their game, up close and personal, gives me a huge buzz. Over the last decade we have visited Rugby World Cups, British Lions Tours, Golf Ryder Cups and the World snooker championships, all of which are played out in electrifying atmospheres. And so it is that we have started saving our pennies, or Yens, to visit the next major event on the horizon, the RWC in that little-known rugby-playing nation, Japan. It feels like only a few years back when I went on a school trip to witness a Japanese touring side playing against Wales in Cardiff and getting 100-0 tanning. And back then at 5 foot nine in heels, I was probably a good few inches taller than most of their team. Well not any more. Over the last decade or so the land of the rising sun now sports a squad full of players of monster proportions, each and every one carrying twenty stones of muscle that would come in right handy carrying plasterboards up three flights of stairs. An outside tenner could do worse that pick them to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. You heard it here first.
  Right, I am off to eat some sushi. Sayonara!