Sunday 15 November 2020

Rabbit stew!

      I think, historically, this is the issue where I am supposed to write Happy Christmas to one and all but, if you don’t mind, I might refrain from it this year for a few reasons. One, because as things look right now, a more thrilling festive time could probably be had watching a house-fire! Two, the word 'lockdown' has made it into the top ten English words spoken over the last 12 months, which in itself is a bigger tragedy then the collective works of Shakespeare.  But mainly, as I write, it is still November and I am a card-carrying member of the 'Keep Christmas In December' club, a rapidly growing group of grumpy old bastards who go around metaphorically ripping down premature festive decorations and warning small children not to trust anyone in a white beard!  We even have a theme song to underpin our campaign which actually made it into the charts in, er, November 2017!

     Another reason for my prolonged irritability is that usually at this time of year we are heading to Scotland with our jolly "let's wrap up warm and enjoy the winter scenery" hats on. Well, we haven’t actually got all those words printed on a hat, even my head's not that big, but you know what I mean? Instead, the people of Fife are in tiers (see what I did there, ed?) which our emphatic erratic leader is permitted to change on a whim, until nobody knows what the hell is going on. One minute you're sitting down to a fish supper and a pint of Tennants in the local, the next the polis are at the door and you are all lifted for breaching a curfew that didn’t exist ten minutes earlier. Such is the confusion and uncertainly of the Covid situation up there that, for the moment anyway, we are staying put in France where, although we need licence and a damn good reason to even step outside our front gate, we all know what the rules are.

     In a mission to avoid spending twelve hours per day in front of the TV all winter I have embarked on writing another novel, my first for four years and, for the first time in my life I am finding myself stuck for words. 'Distraction', 'procrastination' and 'ineptitude' are not the names of a trio of extra Horsemen of the Apocalypse but just a few of the reasons that I spend hours sharing my time equally between staring at a blank screen and watching animals  falling over on social media! Last month I even sat watching the swing-o-meter showing the painfully slow and incremented demise of Donald Trump rather than fathom the way through my whodunit story and an acceptable daily word count. There was an original notion that this, my 41st book, would be done and dust-jacketed in time for the aforementioned late December gift-list but that is rapidly disappearing with any hopes of a visit to the boozer.

     Of course there is always sport to aid with the diversion, despite the fact that nobody is allowed to witness it first-hand. Actually, I quite enjoy watching golf without American morons shouting 'In-the-hole!' every time Tiger Woods so much as sneezes near the ball. There is a sense of pleasant solitude seeing rugby games on TV without the whistling hordes hurling abuse from their sideline seating although it did make me laugh when, at a recent Scotland footie match, the pretend crowd noise was set to 'boo' when the opposing side took a penalty! As many may have heard, after some twenty five years of soul searching and ineffectiveness, they have actually made it into the Euros next year, the most exciting thing that has happened North of the border since William Wallace discovered blue make-up!  The fact that England are in the same pool has added a few extra chilli-flakes to spice up their deep-fried Mars-bar of hope.    

     On that very subject I was recently enlightened by a podcast I subscribe to, of a rather bizarre true story that happened the last time these two teams met at the event, back when England hosted it in 1996. Just as the Glasgow midfielder and captain, Garry McAllister was about to take a penalty which would have drawn the teams equal, the ball moved a few inches of its own accord from the spot at the very time he was taking a run up, causing him to miss the goal. Within a minute the 'bag of shame' that was Paul Gascoigne scored up the other end, sealing Scotland's exit from the competition, breaking a lot of Northern hearts and windows in the process. But, and here is where it gets both spooky and hilarious in parallel, the rationale behind the slight movement of the ball was claimed by none other than Olympic spoon-bender himself, Uri Geller. In a later interview he alleges that he was just passing over Wembley by helicopter, for reasons unknown, and noticed McAllister running for the spot. He then channelled his kinetic energy into moving the waiting ball, and thus claiming his part in England's promotion to the semi-finals! The fact that the Israel born British illusionist couldn’t repeat his effort to see the hosts through to the podium did nothing to detract from the eleven thousand hate letters he received from grieving Scottish fans in subsequent weeks!

     A couple of times I have referenced our leaders above and I could continue in that unremarkable vein until the cows come home. However, the latter cliché could almost be true as there is a growing trend in the stupider parts of USA to appoint an animal as their local leaders. Apparently, Lucy-Lou, a brown border collie, was elected as mayor of Rabbit-Hash County in 2008! This in itself is quite extraordinary, if only to reveal that somewhere called Rabbit-Hash County actually does exist. In fact she stepped down from the post eight years later to run for President in 2016, I kid you not, but was beaten by the Trump campaign! Her replacement in the local ballot vote, one Brynneth Pawltro, is a bulldog of some standing and has held the post for four years after narrowly beating a cat and a donkey for the electoral post, although, sadly, not a rabbit!

And Scotland thought having a highland cow in charge was a problem!   

Thursday 15 October 2020

The tumbleweed of parochialism

 So, this thing just doesn’t seem to be going away, does it?

We are still here in France, semi locked-down but, at present, free to roam if we desire. To be honest, we haven’t been far lately - I can't really see the point. Since we got our new camper it hasn't actually stopped raining and a month off the alcohol has dampened my enthusiasm to go to the bar. At least it is open, unlike other parts of this country, and UK for that matter. We are due to head to Scotland in mid/late November, but the jury is still out on whether we go at all this winter, such is the chaos and uncertainty brought on the country by its strident leader. For now it's a case of sit tight, light the fire, read a book or play Scrabble for a while longer yet.

Anyway, enough of the gloom. Considering the circumstances, we have had quite a good year with our Scottish holiday rentals which have been pretty much back to back since early July, although our American student, however, who moved into one of our cottages a few months ago has not really benefited from his St Andrews university experience, and is hence heading back over the pond for Thanksgiving. Not that I feel sorry for students having their festivities curtailed whilst they squirm under the spotlight of irresponsibility as the country shuts down around them. Let's face it, recklessness is the first subject on the curriculum for freshers the world over and the first lads to climb the local statue and put a traffic cone on its head are generally the ones who go on to be captains of sport and industry! So, the odd house-party is hardly heinous. It's just their Mums' having a gripe over the fact that little Johnny shouldn’t be cooped up his student halls, missing lectures and sleeping in till lunchtime curled up with Daisy from the next corridor that galls me, when she believes that he should be going to lectures and learning directly from mumbling professors who have as little wanton to be there as their undergrads. Personally, I don’t think anyone has ever had it so good. University is about learning about life, and where better to start than with a valid excuse to experience work-avoidance!

On the subject of holiday letting, this may possibly be our last year, since the Sturgeon (Princess Nicola to her friends) is putting the proverbial boot into our industry. From April next year a whole host of new regulations are being mooted in Scotland, which include requiring planning permission to let out a property. It is then up to the 'local government' whether they grant it or not, which in itself hangs a problem doused with corruption. Scottish coastal towns, such as the ancient fishing village of Cellardyke, were once awash with cash earned at sea until fish stocks dwindled due to greed, and restrictions were imposed by Europe. Over the last 50 years, the villages became desolate and derelict, as youngsters headed off to earn their living in the city and from other industries until no one was left but a few hungry seagulls. Then came the Scottish Tourist Board, a body who recognised Scotland's beauty and marketed it to the world, and the money arrived once more, this time from outsiders.  Along with it brought a demand for modern living and in came the developers such as ourselves, restoring old cottages using local suppliers and tradesmen, so everyone got a turn. All in all, the cycle completed itself and generally everyone was happy, you would think? Except now the 'locals' are moaning, big time, about the number of cars in the streets so they can't get to park their 1990 Ford Mondeo in the same spot they have done for two generations, and have to queue at the corner shop for their bread rolls. And, as we all know, enough squeaky and malevolent voices together form a tribal minority whose small tail can wag an extremely large dog, especially with the hot air of the media at their rear.  So let's pull on our blinkers and curb the number of tourists? What the blinkers don’t show, though, is that if they curtail the number of holiday rentals, these houses will get sold, and become second homes for the rich English and will lie empty for 11 months per year, as will the shops, cafes and pubs, whilst the tumbleweed of parochialism lives off its meagre pension.  Oh, I do enjoy my soapbox! Am I too old and shameful become an MP?

Meanwhile, back in the fields of France, Shaun (the sheep) is out with the ewes, the grass is growing faster than France's national debt, and our house is on the market. Yes, after nearly 14 years in this lovely old farmhouse, it is time to slow down, downsize and perhaps enjoy a little more of what life has to offer, as we head towards our hexagon decade.  Who knows, I might even find time to write a book!

Engaging times

 I recall in last month's piece I mentioned that it was raining? Well, it might have been where we were but unfortunately it wasn’t where we needed it, at home, where it is about as dry as a night out with Brad Pitt! I am not sure I have ever seen the farm so arid - even the thistles are dying - but thankfully we cut our sheep numbers right down last year. Having said that, we sent 8 lambs to slaughter this month and their weights and grades were up by 20% on previous years. Some of this can be put down to improvements in our breeding stock but it just shows that animals - not unlike humans - prefer a bit of sunshine to the prolonged dreich days further North.

On the same subject, we have just invested in a new breed of sheep, well for us anyway, a 'Ryeland' ewe. I say new breed but they are, of course, one of the oldest established breeds in UK tracing back to the 12th century, their traditional home being along the Teme valley on the Worcester/Herefordshire border. As Ryelands are conventionally a wool breed, there is no way these smaller animals will stand the exceptional heat we are enduring here in France so, once we build up our numbers a little more, our flock will possibly relocate to central Scotland. A longer term plan might even be to venture out to the agricultural shows once again, after a long absence, following in the well trodden footsteps of my father and mother, although we may replace stock-trailer living with something a little more salubrious.  That is, of course, if the shows are resurrected after this year's closures.

The above mention of more upmarket mobile living is still something of a stigma to us, as we have not yet been able to venture to UK to collect our new camping-car, whilst a quarantine order is in place. Hopefully we will get it soon before the wheels seize up!  Our old one, not happy about being replaced, managed to fail its 'Control Technique', the French equivalent of an MOT, but she is booked in next week for some minor surgery and should come out smiling on the forecourt by the end of the month. I have to admit, we will be sad to see Libby go as we have been through four good years together. The new one is also German but has a few added features like electric windows and aircon!

As predicted last month, the 14-day quarantine ruling in UK kicked in a few days before our end-of-term party, which prevented a number of guests visiting us last month. However, not to be done out of her 30th birthday party, my niece, Emma, along with her intended and another friend did make it over and enjoyed a few weeks in the sun. The party still went ahead, all choreographed with social distancing, and a couple of dozen folks managed to eat their way through a whole double gigot of lamb and a barrel of wine, and damn good it was too.

The other visitors we have hosted this month have not been quite so pleasant as they buzz around in large groups, up our chimney. Yes, after two years absence, the blessed hornets are back. Each day a few of them drop into the living room, scare the dog - even the partially-blind Louis can see them - and hang around waiting to pounce on innocent passers-by. They are, I am assured, European hornets, not the more vicious Asian variety who are the insect equivalent of Saddam Hussein, such is their war-mongering. Never-the-less, these b*ggers are as big as mice, I swear. After a week of this I took evasive action, and lit the log-burner. They didn’t like that. Within less than a minute they started filtering in to the house in squadrons, only to be countered by me and my trusty aerosol of toxicity, wrapped up like, err, the aforementioned Iraqi leader. The first day I hit of 100, second, 142 and third 52 - yes I counted the carcasses! I have no idea how many there are in a colony but surely their depleted numbers must be indenting their economy by now. All we need to do now is get that damn Queen. Methinks that may require the help of professionals.   

Only other news this month is that we are due to have another wedding in the family. After some months of stalling, my younger son finally popped the question to his lovely girlfriend, also Emma, and a date has been provisionally set for 2022. Unfortunately, the next day he headed back to Peru for work, but they will hopefully be re-united over there soon. My heartiest congratulations to them both. As the announcement was made within hours of us purchasing the above mentioned sheep, the ewe will also be named in Emma in her honour.

There could be some confusing times ahead!


Camping out

 Oh rain, at last, which would be so welcoming, were it not that we are on holiday at the beach and it is coming down in torrents. Still, at least it has cooled down a bit, while we live and sleep in an aluminium oven on gas mark 5!

Currently, as 14 French folks are occupying our house, we are near Lake Biscarosse, a series of 3 giant stretches of water just south of Bordeaux. I don’t know how big they are as Wikipedia refuses to tell me, but it would take a long while swim across it, even if you could negotiate your way between the masses of Parisians who flock here in their 4x4s and clutter up the place with their stupid paddle boards. For those un-initiated, these are giant ironing boards that red-faced parents spend half the morning inflating and people then spend the afternoon standing on them trying to balance while rowing out to sea. Although they cost 300 quid each and are about as unstable as a bi-polar polar bear, they are the latest must-have fashion item for the rich and wanna-be-seen tourist. A giant lake is the ideal sporting ground for these abominates, as there are no waves – except when a speedboat tears past and they all topple over like table skittles. Oh, how I scoff!

 After spending one night on a ‘Camping-car’ park, with feral tattooed children running amok until the small hours we have since opted to park down a leafy track, under some gigantic pine trees, keeping ourselves unpolluted for the rest of the week. We did run out of gas this evening, both for the BBQ and main bottle, and also the electricity charge is low and the place is rife with vicious mozzies, all of which make my good lady somewhat waspy, but it’s home for now.

I am not actually sure who owns this piece of land but, apart from a few boats moored along side us in a tiny estuary and the occasional dog being walked, it is nicely remote so nobody bothers us, yet only 500 yards from some gorgeous sandy beaches, complete with end to end restaurants. However, I somehow seem to have accumulated a new friend whose name is, I think, Percoud, who arrives for a walk each evening. He is quite a simple soul but likes to stop for a chat, if only I could understand a word he says as his accent is the parochial equivalent of someone from Gornal, or the Shetlands. Although he refuses to take a glass of wine with me, last night he actually brought his own deckchair and we whiled away an hour chatting about fishing, wild boar, tourists and aeroplanes, the latter of which he was surprisingly knowledgeable about. As there is one of France’s largest airbases just nearby, the sky is full of Eurofighters and other powerful machines doing doughnuts over the beach and scaring the bejeezus out of small children and our dog. Percoud declares that they mainly fly Mirages down this way, although a friend of mine who is quite anal about these matters assures me they are Dassault Rafale fighters, whatever that means. All I know is they make a helluva din, even louder than the thunder that we are currently enduring! During our conversation, I mentioned to my new friend that I used to be a ‘Coiffure des Vaches’ (cattle hairdresser) which I am sure he did not believe. He will be back again this evening for more detail, even if it is just to get away from his wife for an hour.

Next week, as the last of our ‘guests’ trash our French farmhouse, we plan on heading to Scotland, possibly to collect our new camper. At present this trip may be in turmoil as Boris and his organised crew decide whether to quarantine all the Frenchies once they land. To be honest, the way that Covid is resurging around Paris, he would be right to do so. If that were the case, nobody can reliably inform us whether spending 14 days in our own house-on-wheels constitutes the correct procedural isolation, so we will wait and see. Likewise, the week after that we supposedly are having family to visit for an end-of-term party, but some of them may decline if it means they can’t go back to work in UK for two week on their return.

Oh, what joyful times we live in, where the only certainty, apart from Percoud arriving tonight, is uncertainty itself. And one more thing. Who the hell came up with the word ‘Staycation’? Arse.

Locked down or Locked up?

 My knuckles are getting rapped by the editor as again I am late filing this piece, while you all swan about in the, er, Swan, or other pub of choice.

I thought past months had been hectic but I don’t remember one quite as busy as these last 30 days. I may have mentioned that we were renting this house in France out for the first time this year and it seems that rental guests aren’t too keen on sharing it with spiders. And there in hangs, literally, a recursive problem. Wendy had tried barrier spray, picking up the beasts and putting them outdoors, shouting at them, but still their web of chaos is back next day. So there was only one thing for it, to borrow a Hoover of such industrial force it takes the books off the shelves. Seriously, this thing would extract a badger from its set! If the spiders can survive a few seconds in its vortex, they can then stay in the sack until they are emptied somewhere 20 miles away to annoy someone else.  But even after weeks of this, I am sure the first person in the house to get a face-full of silk in the morning will be on the phone to us faster than you can say Rentokill.

Anyway, couple that with mending a leak in the pool, roof and tractor, repairing, replacing, building and bodging, and my feet have barely touched the ground as I knock in somewhere around 80 kilometres per week. My Fitbit thinks I have taken to marathon training.

It has been nice to get a couple of days downtime this last weekend though, as my two sons braved the dangers and rudeness of Ryanair and paid us a visit. We all social distanceted (is that actually a word now?) and got well bevvied up on wine and beer in the sunshine, although number two son still had to do his day's work in our open-air office. At just 30 he seems to making his mark on the business world and will be heading back to South America again soon to pick up charge of a rather large construction contract.

By the time this gets to print we intend to be in Scotland at last. The new balustrading around the terrace looks fantastic, well to us and most others anyway. However, the same trio of neighbours who objected to just about everything I have done in the coastal village in the past, kicked up more than a fuss about it, this time even resulting in an arrest! I was not there to witness the event, but expect to be met with flaming pitchforks, as have a few of my holiday guests who were literally told to F-OFF. Why Fifers cannot just 'live and let live' I don’t know but I have had enough now and am ready to fight the fire myself. Watch this space.

Whilst out of our own house, and our Scottish house is also full of holiday makers, we will once more be embarking on tour in Libby, our 20 year old camper van. Please don’t tell her, but she is due to be replaced this summer, after four faultless years, with a swanky newer model, with electric windows, central locking and all those other mod-cons that have been invented in the last 2 decades. We have our eye on a couple of German ones online but the things seem to be flying off the shelves faster than loo-roll in lockdown, since everyone is encouraged to holiday within their own shores this year and the idea of a safe-house on wheels is appealing to a much wider audience. Certainly no chance of getting a 'deal' which always rankles with this farmer.

Right, I need to get back to my tasks here which today include removing 500 miniature whisky bottles from the shelves in case the greedy Frenchmen get a thirst on. We also need to remove breakables from sticky little fingers and cleanse the place of pictures of me with Royalty for fear of a revolt. Hopefully when I write next, the place will still be standing and we may be gearing up for a post-lockdown shindig at the end of the summer.

Have fun in the pubs folks. Let's hope it doesn’t take us back into lock-up.

Sunday 14 June 2020

The past has passed

    We, as a nation, have now gone officially crazy? Never mind locked-down, it appears there are a number of people out there who should be locked-up? When was it that wanton violence and damage to public property stopped being a criminal offence? But instead of doing what our fore-fathers would have done and given these protesters a clip round the ear or a kick up the backside, we pander to their ridicule of trying to erase our past! What nonsense. You can't change the past. That's like trying to un-eat your breakfast! No matter how many times you throw-up, you ate it, plain and simple! You can't even change the present! Only thing we can change is our future, and we do that by learning, planning, and then rolling up our sleeves to make a better life for ourselves.
    So, you thought after last month's sermon, my fire had gone out? Think again. I can just about cope with biased media, corrupt politicians, eco-mentalists, even vegans, but this surely is the last straw - a tale of the tail wagging the dog - when we allow ill-educated numpties to go around defacing and removing statues of those who built and shaped the land we live in, a land of free enterprise. Not only that, but to gather together in thousands, when we are all told to stay home and save lives. People who think they are above the very law they hide behind? My greatest concern is where will this all end? How soon will they pull down the churches citing that religion was built on power and corruption, not to mention invading and colonising half the world? Will they burn down farms, where fat-cat land-owners once profited from cheap labour under poor conditions? My grandfather had a team of Italian prisoners of war, digging drains and picking fruit to feed a nation, and I highly doubt they got paid anything other than board & lodgings. Am I embarrassed by that? No, not at all! It was legal, during a time of war, and thus acceptable. It wouldn’t be now, I agree, but then, it doesn’t happen now, so what's all the complaining about? What's done, is done, so, for dad's sake, move on!
    Right. Deep breath.

   Meanwhile, back in France our lockdown has eased somewhat and we ventured out earlier this week in the camper. No, it wasn’t on a jolly, just to collect some building materials from a depot in a town called Montauban, 150 kilometres away, as we couldn’t source them locally. We stayed overnight by a canal and were there to witness a very nice local restaurant re-opening, which was subsequently crammed with revellers, although we did maintain our discipline and distance. I now have the unenviable task of tiling an entire terrace next week, subject to my knees holding out. Couple that with last week's building work, roof repairs, staircase upgrade and painting, we will shortly be in need of a holiday. All this is ongoing, as this year, for the first time since we have been here at Chauffour, we have some paying guests taking over the house in August. While they are here, we will take-off in said camper and hole up somewhere different and relax in surroundings new for a month, as we have enjoyed doing the past couple of years. Admittedly, we may need to pop back at weekends, to clean the house before the next 14 guests arrive, but we are hoping to canvass some local help on that front. It may be that we get to UK and even to Scotland and view the new extension on our house, dependent on whether this retched Covid has calmed down a bit. Let's just hope that the recent selfish gatherings haven’t re-opened those wounds. 

   On the subject of our house in Scotland, what was a full calendar of holiday bookings over the summer is dwindling fast as many of our guests are from overseas and the cancellations are ramping up. As I write, and quite rightly so in my opinion, anyone visiting the UK from overseas will need to remain in quarantine for 14 days, making a week's holiday rather impossible. If only that law had been implemented in February, but hindsight is purely a thing of the past. We hope we may refill some of the voids with holidaymakers from within UK shores, so if you fancy a few days in a sleepy village on Fife's east coast, give me a call! Take your golf clubs. You may even get to see a local statue of the fictional Robinson Crusoe who allegedly hailed from those parts, before he headed off to collect some slaves, and then got shipwrecked near Trinidad among a tribe of cannibals. If it's still there...

    In fact, if you do get to stay in our house, send photos please, we would love to see it ourselves! 

Friday 15 May 2020

Hiding in plain sight

Well this is rather tedious, isn’t it? Three months locked down; predicted to go on for a lot longer; masks, gloves and paranoia; impending financial meltdown; governments that can do no right; world recession - it's hard to see an upside really? That is, unless you sit with the window open and listen to the birdsong for a while?
It used to be only in the dawn hours that the privileged few could really do this, but now we all get to appreciate nature all-day long, as the roads and crowds are still. Moreover, thankfully, we get the time to do this too, as we are not out being stressed at work, or spending hours getting there, or scrummaging around in shops buying things we don’t need to top up our material kingdoms. Or going to the supermarket everyday, as we are not organised enough to write a full weekly shopping list like our mothers and grannies used to. We eat and drink at home, for a fraction of the price it costs to queue for Costa-lot-latte or a seven-quid glass of Chardonnay in the local Beefeater beer-garden. Surely we eat better food too? Boil the spuds instead of greasing them up; maybe throw in some greens, or make a curry from things in the fridge instead of paying fifteen quid each for a Bhuna and enduring all that awful eastern music and carpeted walls? Who needs a new car, when we don’t use it? We don’t spend a couple of grand on holidays, because, even through the darkest days, we can't really convince ourselves that we are tired, worn-out or deserved of two weeks of lavishness at the seaside - even if we could. Instead, we go for walks everyday rather than twice per year, to places on our own doorstep we hardly knew existed, and we do it willingly, and enjoy it. And, unlike the monthly membership at the gym, it's free. It always was. Including the weekly quizzes and catch-ups on Zoom with friends and relatives.
And it was always there. All of it. Hiding in plain sight.
I am no guru. In fact, my constant flippant remarks in this column generally have very little substance, I am the first to admit that. But this month, I really do believe something rather good may have unexpectedly come out of this disaster. Even when it's over, millions of people will still experience the pleasures of a ‘work-from-home’ environment. Thousands of offices will close as the realisation sinks in that we don’t actually have to be all in the same room for meetings, or bickering around the coffee machine. Children, older ones anyway, will continue to be able to school online, as well as learning valuable life-lessons of self-discipline. Without this overly-closeted environment, maybe we will all stay healthier. Let alone passing on Corona virus, even the common-cold should be contained.
Town centres will see an evolution of unprecedented proportions, as high-street shopping spirals past us into history, as it was always destined to do since the invention of the internet. So will high-street banks. We won't even need the cash-machines any more. In fact, it won't be so long before we are explaining to the next generation what a fiver looked like, and how a fifty pence piece had corners on it! And, with all this comes a massive financial saving, surely? Hell, if we don’t spend so much, and don’t need to go out to impress everyone else, perhaps we could work less hours, or even part-time? And if we all worked less hours, theoretically, there would be more jobs? Am I sounding like a politician now? I hope not.
And here’s another thing, while I am at my lectern of eternal optimism: what about all that global warming malarkey? Hasn’t it been a pleasure not to have Chris Packham spouting his drivel on every headline, telling us that our cows are killing the planet? Or that irritating school-child in her yellow plastic mac accusing us of stealing everything? And all those sanctimonious Vegans? Don’t get me wrong - I am not saying climate-change and its problems will suddenly go away, but it certainly feels like its slowed down a little, if only because it can't get a word in edgeways, while Laura Kronenberg and her BBC cronies spend their time character-assassinating the government at every opportunity. But without cars, planes and business travel, I believe those in the know are suggesting the difference to the environment is starting to show in just a few short months. Surely we can benefit from that knowledge? Incidentally, Mr Monnibot, there are still just as many flatulent cows in the world! And, while we are on that subject, as well as clapping our hands for all the doctors and nurses out there doing their job, let’s hear a should-out for our farmers out there doing theirs? No, we don’t need to stand and clap for them too on Thursday night - just buy your food locally, that’s the reward they deserve.
OK. Before you say ‘who wrote this, and what have you done with the Fraz we know and laugh at?’, I just want to remind any of you insomniacs out there, there’s only three sleeps left until Christmas!
As my local baker says : Stay Sane - Save Loaves!

Pomp to you too

   Firstly I have to sincerely apologise for my column last month. Tucked away on top of the Pyrenees mountains, I grossly underestimated this deluge we were about to endure, which by the time the R&DN went to print two weeks later had escalated beyond all belief. We arrived back to France on Friday 13th March and I have been out of the gate only once since then, on my old tractor to mow the grass verges in the village.  Wendy gets our weekly shopping and drops some in for a few of our older and more vulnerable friends, en-route. As yet, this part of the world has seen only one case of C19, but still we obey the rules and bunker down.
   Like everyone else, I have glanced at the TV News from behind the sofa, seen the cases and death-toll rising with both dismay and sadness. I am sure this subject will be discussed in more detail than I am prepared to offer, and for once will keep my offensive comments to myself about those without enough intelligence to stay home, lock the door and keep this wretched thing in confinement.
    Meanwhile, back on the ranch, our daily exercise consists of 'best of five' competitions of table-tennis, non-stop gardening and beating a path to the fridge, much the same as it has done for the last 14 years. We have also taken to amusing ourselves with 'bored-games' such as Rummikub, Backgammon and Scrabble, the latter being played online 'With Friends', something that irritates me when folks take ages to play their move! How can it take her 24 hours to come up with POMPADOUR, and what the heck does it mean anyway?
   Out in the fields, one of the best crops of lambs we have had in a while continue to grow themselves into freezer condition although, as I write, we are in desperate need of rain. Early potatoes in 'Le potager' won't be long now, as the last of the frosts disappear, and I have re-opened my old potting-shed this year, growing dozens of seeds, as young plants are not available from my usual supplier. I have to admit it is quite therapeutic, although my first attempt did fail due to my planting from out-of-date packets - a lesson learnt. It may be a few more months before we see tomatoes, but I am sure they will be well worth the wait.
    With the aid of modern technology, we keep in touch with friends and families through video calls, all of whom, I am glad to report, are safe and well. However, a few weeks ago my niece was having a 'house-party' and dialled me around midnight. Rudely awaking from my sleep and assuming something was wrong, I flicked on the light and hit the green button, only to hear the gasps on the other end as my naked body was displayed on the screens of some twenty or so other guests! Hopefully a few weeks of alcohol-therapy will help them get over the shock! 
   Stop of today, we are in extended lockdown here in France, until May 11th, by which time I suspect it will start getting a bit tedious, and I will more than likely need a haircut.  Due to my previous life as a cattle-hairdresser, this is something I am quite happy to contend with and using my electric cattle shears in the mirror has been commonplace for me over the last few decades. However, not so with my wife who is a regular client of one of Edinburgh's more exclusive salons and takes a lot more pride in her appearance that this author. Inevitably the day is getting closer when she will have to relent to my skilful coiffing efforts. But little does she know I always secretly fancied Sinead O'Connor?
   Ha! POMPADOUR is just an eight letter word?

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Storm Eddy

Clara and Dennis? Sounds like the landlord and lady at the Rovers Return! But boy, did they do some damage between them, storming their way through UK. Not that we were there to witness any of it, having got out just in time a few weeks ago. And just in time it was, as our camper coughed its way from Scotland to France at 50mph and we arrived about 10 minutes after our first pair of lambs were born. Call it irresponsible if you like, but it was a failure of mechanics that caused it. No, not the machine itself, but they who were supposedly repairing it, who were about as reliable as our builders had been. Anyway, we are here now, and my local mechanic in France is coming soon to scratch his head over the problem. Having just had the turbo replaced, he'll probably say we need a new shu-shu valve, or engine, or whole camper! If only I had listened when Tony Butcher used to spanner our farm diesel engines when I was a teenager, instead of racing round the farm tracks in the family Land-rover!  He'd have it fixed in a jiffy!
Back to the subject of flooding, I do have a theory and that is that Chris Packham is to blame! Yes, he of the do-good, save-every-animal, BBC-warbling persuasion. You see, farmers who have lived and worked the land near rivers and low ground will tell you that ditches and main water-courses not only need dredging, but the banks need keeping clear so the water can flow freely. Every tree that hangs into the moving water will slow it down with eddy currents. See, I did listen in physics at school. So basically, we need to clear the river banks so Dennis's rain-water can shift itself quicker towards the sea. Except we can't do that because, as we all know, rivers harbour a whole eco-system of wildlife, including voles, mice, rats, and those lovely looking otters which would steal fish from your table faster than my greedy cat.  And, obviously, wildlife is far more important than human endeavour, especially if you live in a city and watch Countryfile every week, where the only flood you endure is the tears of politicians.  Good people of Tenbury, if you are in the midst of building an Ark, never mind saving the animals two-by-two, save the people first, except Packham and Kate Humble, obviously. 
Yesterday morning, a black cat crossed the road just missing my wheels, and then I found a four-leaf-clover in the sheep field. And last night a beautiful rainbow poked its glorious colours into our other field. Today, with fingers crossed, I am hoping to get lucky, because we have a plasterer starting work on our never-ending extension in Fife. Anyone who has employed a plasterer will concur, those guys are harder to find than plumbers, who, as it happens, are also at work in the same building. Our massive window is now in place, and sealed against the next stupidly named storm to arrive, although it was quite a Herculean effort to get it there, using enough man-power to build a pyramid. The inner wall has been removed and, although the house is un-inhabitable at present, the pictures look magnificent. To you un-believing locals Fifers, I quote James Baldwin:  'Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it!'
As I write, today is the nineteenth anniversary of the first outbreak of Foot-and Mouth earlier this century. There are many who will recall the sights and smells of dead animals around the country at that time, and many more who would rather not. As a sheep breeder, I had some pretty first-hand experience of the disease both in Cumbria and nearer home when it hit in the middle of lambing. For days, the stench of carcasses burning at Heightington drifted through Rock village and into our sheep shed. Through a contact I got a daily slot on ITV's 'Good Morning Britain', speaking on a web-cam from the farm about the management of the problem. The patronising presenter was so desperate to see my tears when all our animals were lined up to be shot, she was practically peeing herself.   Thankfully our pedigree flocks did survive the disease itself, but then we were imposed with a curfew for nearly a year which negated us from moving or selling stock, something which added a massive expense to us and many more. In discussion with a substantial network of friends around the country back then, I pointed the finger of mishandling of the situation, that let it spiral hopelessly out of control, directly at the government. In the end, 6 million - yes SIX MILLION! - animals were slaughtered, most of which could have been prevented, and the cost to the country was estimated at eight billion pounds! I promised my father than one day I would reveal the truth, as I saw it, about that time. I am quite pleased to announce that my short book, entitled THE HOLE,  a reference to the massive hole in Cumbria that was dug to bury the dead, goes on sale this week on Amazon. It may get me into hot water, but it certainly will tingle a few nerves.
Back to calmer times, I am pleased to state that we have had eleven lambs this year from our six ewes and that, miraculously, in her seventh lambing Daisy Death-wish has had twins for the first time. With the daffs in full bloom and squadrons of cranes flying overhead, I think spring has arrived a little too early this year in France. Would it be provocative of me to predict that storm Emmanuel may arrive in mid-summer to compensate?

Tuesday 14 January 2020

The emperor has no clothes

   Old Mr Frazier had a farm, eieio. And on that farm he had some cows. And he ate lots of them and lived very healthily until he was 88 years old - and the weather was the weather. The end!
   So please will the media, both social and anti, stop telling me to become a vegan. Your arguments are inherently flawed, as is your complexion. Despite the propaganda being driven by massive corporate business, who have a lot of money to gain by it, meat is good for you and the planet, especially if it is UK produced. If you must eat imported avocados, lettuce (in winter) and almond milk, take a good look at where it comes from and how it gets to you. I mean properly research it, don’t just ask your sycophantic smug vegan friends. Seek out some real science, not the one-sided BS you see on TV.
   Oo, that feels better. To the rest of you, welcome officially to a new decade, possibly one where I become even more grumpy than the last one. At present we are still in Fife, enduring Storm Brendan battering our windows and keeping our occasional builders away. I have to say it is quite satisfying to see some of our pile of 150 year old bricks now built around our wooden framed extension but we are still a long way off the mark, with the roof leaking faster than Julian Assange  and the pressure mounting. Shortly we will be away back to Chauffour in time for lambing, hoping to take in a 6 Nations rugby game in Paris en-route, in our old camper. Just a few weeks ago we took 'Libby' on a winter trip up to the frozen North, spending a weekend in the cute village of Braemar. Sadly though, for the first time in the 3+ years we have had her, the engine decided to splutter while we were climbing the long road up towards Glenshee ski-slopes. As we dropped to a walking pace, the coughing got louder and for a minute of two, it looked like we were to spend a night in one of the highest points in Scotland, in mid Jan, in a tin-can with no heating - not an ideal situation. Thankfully we managed to get over the summit and freewheel the next 15 miles or so to our destination. The machine is now in dry-dock awaiting news of her intestinal trauma. Hopefully it is all repairable else it might scupper our travel plans somewhat.
   Whilst on our visit, after a quick distillery sortie, we popped into the splendid Fife Arms hotel - the irony that we actually live in Fife, some 120 miles away, not lost on the breeze. What used to be just a local hotel for tourists, skiers and the odd deer-stalker has now been bought by a pair of art dealers from Switzerland, who have spent 4 years and a lot of millions turning it into not only a luxury place of rest, but an art gallery to boot.  In fact they have done it so well it just won hotel of the year 2019 - quite a coup for a tiny backwater in the Highlands. As you enter its vast ornate vestibule you are faced with an original, if not ghastly, Picasso overlooking a Steinway piano painted in bizarre colours and imported from LA, having previously been played by some jolly famous musicians. In the courtyard a giant spider spans the entire area which was sculptured by Louis Bourgeois, who evidently did a massive amount of drugs, since a plaque explains it was created an ode to his mother! Try as I might to love abstract art, why is it I always see the emperor as just a naked man having a laugh!
   Anyway, the subject of skiing has now thrown its gauntlet on to the table and, after a 3 year absence, I quite fancy going this year. Obviously, since we used too many plastic straws, the climate is no longer cold enough for snow in Scotland, so subsequently we have booked a trip for early March to the Pyrenees. This now gives me precisely two months to lose about four stone so I can fit into my ski-suit. Couple this with trying to persuade my thighs and knees that they soon have some official duty to perform, and my daily and somewhat lazy routine has just been turbocharged into breathlessness. As a precautionary measure I did drop into the docs to check that I was fit for purpose which met with a few sighs but, finding nothing more wrong with me that a half-pickled liver, he gave me the green light for another year.  If you don’t hear from me next month, send plaster - or perhaps flowers!
   Whilst on a grumpy note, I have to raise a questionable eye on a profession that I consider even more despicable than plumbers: yes, you got it, estate agents. We currently have a few properties on the market and, over the last few years, have had dealings with dozens of these people, each and every one who have been about as useful as a one legged man on a five legged horse.  Yes I am sure there are a few reading this column that may raise an eyebrow at this but I can only speak as I find, and what I find doesn’t seem to work. Today I have met with yet another one full of promises and science, far better than those before him, apparently. Whoopie-do, should I hold my breath that this year might be the year of the house-sale so we can all prosper once more? Let's see, shall we.   

Thursday 9 January 2020

The future of our industry is already out of our hands

    A few weeks ago, a chance meeting with an auld adversary of mine opened my eyes to something that has left me sleepless ever since - a subject that I cannot now un-hear. I have sat on it for a few weeks, but would now like to share a situation that is as scary as it is unavoidable.
   I didn't see the programme on C4 last night but I gather it was more propaganda from the plant based corner. Now many folks, farmers particularly, might see these eco-activists as bunch of lefty crackpots shouting out for their faddish cause. What most folks don’t see is the future of the food industry being rapidly shifted in to the hands of power, and away from the small supplier, but not quite in the way we currently believe.
   I am reliably informed that Fake Meat is the new techno holy grail in California's Silicone Valley and the giants are piling millions upon millions into R&D in hopes their company will become the next Google, Amazon etc within the food industry. A risk so worth taking that Bill Gates has chucked in £250m and, of course, Google themselves are forefront investors. To quote my source, the whole industry is awash with cash to fund its research.  
   Now we are all aware Fake meat exists, but it's not the chemically produced plant based shit such as pups-in-blankets and tofu sausage rolls that should concern us. I am talking about real meat, grown from stem cells in factories, looking, tasting and, in fact, totally resembling the real thing in every way. At present, the cost of a 'replica' sirloin or tuna steak is 100 times that of the real product but.... and here's the doesn’t eat grass where trees could grow, give off methane, get killed or endure factory living conditions, or become unsustainable (vegan's ethical arguments, not mine). And it sure is better for the climate, huh?
   As with all R&D, it is about getting the product right before going to mass production, in the same way the silicone chip did or, say, the car. The clock is now ticking nicely for the big guns, as to who gets it right first, builds a big f-off factory and starts growing our food on a massive commercial scale at a price far, far less than us farmers, can compete with. The process requires no labour, feed, not even water, just electricity.  So why build the 'farms' in the west when they can be stuck out in the desert run on solar power? Or Africa where land cost next to nothing? And most of all, corporate business has complete control.
   Of course, before they start mass production, the product will need to have a market, which is where we go back to the ethics of brain-washing ill-informed intelligent people into believing meat is bad for us, and the planet. Starting to make sense now?
    Will our gripes with a TV show reverse this process when it is driven from the top? I am afraid not.
   Inevitably, at some stage the 'modern' vegans will need to be persuaded over to eating 'fake-real' meat instead of their current fake-chemical diet but, with the power of the media, I am sure that is just a matter of hitting a political switch when the time is right. The media will be fed news of how unhealthy vegans are becoming, dying on our streets from a dozen side-effects of malnutrition. Vegans in it for the bragging rights, such as our teen generation, will soon switch allegiance to meat which is ethical, healthier and cheaper than their current chemical intake.
     Unfortunately, by the time this reality hits us like an oncoming train, within a decade at most,  we will be completely powerless to defend our industry and proper grass-fed beef and lamb may become a commodity that only the wealthy can afford.
    Now can you see why my sleep has been disturbed?
   I would apologise for proffering such gloom in an already dark January, but burying our heads and/or making enemies of the consumer won't really do us much good either.
    I wish I had a counter solution, but this is where my information runs out.