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.