Monday 20 December 2021

A big wee storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 18 November 2021

Rurally depraved

 December already, and the goose is getting fat. Well, for goose, read 'me', for I still cannot get out and do all that hard work that constitutes exercise. You may recall I was laid up last month with a poorly shoulder? Sadly is has made very little stride towards recovery as yet, despite scans, armrests and painkillers. Next stop may be the knife, although I am not sure whether the French, nor British, medical system has a theatre-window in their schedule this side of next Christmas, let alone this one. So I'm still off games, with Wendy doing the driving, gardening, cooking etc. 

Alas, through the shifting sand, our plans have been revised a few times but hopefully by the time this goes to print we will be in our house on Fife's east coast, gazing serenely out into the Forth with our woollies on. Of course, there will be domestic chores that go with that, such as redecoration and running repairs after a highly successful rental season, before a flurry of bookings already in the diary for next year drive us back south again in spring. Again, I may be excused of some of those duties due to the aforementioned affliction. At least now I can manage to write, something which is occupying much of my time just now.

This trip we will be without the animals for once. Can't say I will miss the wee terror that is Hoggie, or Hoggina as she is now called. I am not sure if I mentioned this but when we took him to be neutered it transpires that it is in fact female, quadrupling the cost of the job in the process. Well, I wasn’t to know how to check, was I? I did try to Google 'Sex Kitten' but got some rather disturbing results and a rush of blood! Anyway, the little rascal really has now got her feet firmly under our table or, more concerningly, on it, as she thieves like a Ali Baba - except I am probably not allowed to say that in this PC world anymore? Sadly, Louis the pointless pointer is slowly deteriorating into a world of confusion, as doggy dementia seems to be setting in. Despite him never being the sharpest knife in the drawer it is quite heartbreaking to see him wondering round in circles but I am sure he is as happy in his own little world as he ever was. So they are all staying home with house-sitters, for a wee while anyway.

Meanwhile, on the business front we are midst a small property deal in the Balkans which as always is besieged with trauma. One would have thought that, since these countries joined the EU, things might be a bit more straight forward, except that... Oh yes, we are no longer a member! What joy. Talk about one step forward, two steps back. This thing could win Strictly!

As a Midlander, I find the latest UK government stoochie quite amusing as it proclaims it is going to 'level up the North'! Now, this to me sounds about as achievable as lighting up the dark side of the moon, or moving the equator. How on earth does anyone in their right mind believe they can plug a century-old financial chasm with talk and a few hand-outs?  'Here, have a railway. In fact, no, you can't have that, it costs too much. Have some extra council houses instead!' And by the way, we will no longer mention the word 'depravity', which has been scrubbed from our dictionaries along with 'slavery, inferiority and Thatcherism', and since been replaced with words like 'rurality' which basically means a place where few people live.  If only the word 'honesty' could still be aligned with sincerity. Then, instead of all these hollow promises, someone in the mid-benches might stand up and say what they really think: 'If you don’t like living in the North, bloody well move south to civilisation!'  Or shut-up, head to Primark and buy some extra vests!

Happy Festivities, one and all, when it arrives.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Machine fun

 Nobody here is increased in a free-kick.

I beg your pardon! I have absolutely no idea what the above sentence is about, my speech recognition software just made it up.  Yes, we’re back here again, exactly 13 weeks since I broke my left shoulder, I have now broken my right one.  No I wasn’t drinking, yes I’ll take more water with it, yes I will give up the pole dancing and all the other hilarious messages that I have had from friends on social media.  Unlike the left shoulder however, the right one really does pose some serious problems along with the pain.  I am physically unable to write, physically unable to shave, shower, drive, in fact most things that you take for granted, I am unable to do.  After spending four hours in casualty the doctor tells me that I will be in this state for at least four weeks.  The only good news is that I get a supply of morphine and various other drugs which may or may not keep me happy during that period.  It will be at time of frustration particularly because of this software, which writes more lies than the Daily Mail. 

Considering that I run a weekly podcast listened to by thousands, I would like to think my diction is quite clear, but I might as well be dictating this in Russian for all the good that this Microsoft rubbish product can understand.  Only now it is getting upset because I’ve told it that it is rubbish and Microsoft do not like being told how crap they are!  Many times people have warned us to be careful what we say in our own homes when Alexa is listening, and she is listening because she has just asked me if I would like a cup of tea!  Apparently, if you say the word bomb in your own home the FBI will come knocking at your door.  However if you say ‘machine gun’ to this stupid speech software it interprets this as ‘marine fun’ and organises a boat party! 

We are having some lovely weather here at Chauffour, the sun shining most days, maybe to make up for that miserable spring that we had, or possibly just to p*ss me off because I can’t out into the garden to do any work!  This year we kept one of our ram lambs back to use on the flock and, as I speak, he is in the field with some of his aunties.  We have called him Unity.  We are still hoping to get to Scotland for the winter but that may depend somewhat on my health and whether I have at least one good arm to drive with.  I only hope we can make it to Twickenham in time to see England playing Australia in middle November, otherwise my sons will be getting an early Christmas present of two rather expensive tickets.

On the subject of my offspring, it looks like I have not one but two weddings in the family next year, both of which I am to provide wine for.  This may be a rather monumental task and I am considering buying a tanker to tow behind our camper, if only to save on recycling!  Couple these events with two trips to the USA, a stag do in Italy, another commentating job in Edinburgh, and The Golf Open in St Andrews, next year may be another busy one. Let’s hope we have put this dreadful Covid thing behind us by then as I couldn’t bear the thought, let alone that cost, of another hundred damn tests.

Meanwhile I have managed to shoehorn yet another new found profession into my life, this time narrating audio books.  This, I suppose, is quite timely considering the fact that I am completely unable to write at present.  I have started with a couple of my own novels but now have moved on to some professional stuff, reciting old books from the early 20th century which are no longer in print.  Most of these will go out onto the Internet through a third-party company and be available free for everybody to enjoy.  Combine this with a very busy time with my podcast where we are looking at the history of many cattle breeds, and a couple of commissions for magazines and the short days seemed to be getting shorter.  I have to say it is a lot easier than trying to dictate through this godawful cloth-eared software! 

Anyway, at the marathon the bracket worst is good company for the Harrisons!  Ulrich one..

To be a pilgrim

 By calculated accident we appear to have stumbled on one of Europe’s hidden gems, in the form of Costa de Morte, in North West Spain. I’m sure we are not the first to discover it, judging by the wealth and size of posh holiday homes here, but it certainly is unpopulated by tourists and that suits me absolutely fine. Miles and miles of white sandy beaches and secluded wee coves, with virtually nobody on them. Admittedly this is September and towards the end of the season, and perhaps it usually rains around this time. In fact, judging by how green everything is, it must rain most of the time. But not this week, apart from the odd shower at night, as we sit on/or by the beach in pleasant sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, there are tourists here, thousands of them if you know where to look, being lugged around by coach to look at supposed hotspots and being ripped off by licensed bandits.

Many of you will have heard of the Comino, a walk made by pilgrims from Loudes in France, and other selected starting grids, all the way to Santiago de Compestella, at the north end of Galicia. We followed it for a few hundred miles, in the camper, each modern-day pilgrim identifying themselves in the bright dayglo habits and ski poles which they probably bought from a stall en route. I will admit, we steered clear of the city itself, just a bit too busy for our seven metre camper and my tastes. What a lot of people won’t know about the Comino is that it doesn’t end there at all. One guesses that someone in the system decided ‘hmm, when we get there and have said our prayers, what to do know?’  Or possibly, ‘how can we take more money from these blinkered souls?’ The answer is that the route extends 100kms past the city to a place called Finesterra, which loosely translates as ‘The End of the World!’ and for some foreboding reason, we decided to give it a look to see what such a macabre places would be like. Needless to say, as we grew nearer, so the roads were chocca with wannabe peasants from all lands, with only just enough money to buy bags full of religious tat and refill their bottles of holy water straight from the tap. More coaches brought in the infirm and lazy, all of which cluttered up the route up the hill to said lighthouse at the conclusion of the world. I had half expected to see them all throwing themselves in the Atlantic like Lemmings from the clifftops, and I am sure if one person did, the rest would have followed suit. Needless to say, we were there for less than five minutes, before we sidled around to the next bay and some more wine and solitude.

On the subject of wine, we have discovered yet another local gem in the form of Albarino white grown in the area of Baixas, a sheltered valley where the grapes hang from trellises and are still picked by hand. Although slightly expensive, it is absolutely glorious. Today we continue our journey south and will cross the Portuguese border by mid afternoon. Here we anticipate a few problems; not with the border itself but we have been advised that the country has imposed a recent ruling that there is to be no ‘wild camping’, the term used for parking where you like and cleaning up after yourself.  I believe this is due to the massive rise in popularity of the sport of surfing, something for which I am far too long in the girth for these days. Seemingly thousands of them descend on the coastline in their VW sheep wagons, a badge that, for some crazy reason, spells freedom and inhibition. To me it spells cramped, damp, and no toilet, that will likely breakdown by teatime. So for the last few days on this leg of the journey we will either try to outwit the local rossers by hiding our motorhome away in forests or back streets, or we may need to conform and haul up next to other people in campers, the very ones we go on holiday to avoid, who spend their every morning hoovering out said vehicle and the evenings moaning to each other about the lack of sun and everything under it.

BTW, I’m not sure if you noticed that Costa de Morte translates as Coast of Death! I am told this is to do with the amount of ships that have perished off that coast over the years, not the capsized surfers or pilgrim-lemmings diving form the cliffs.




Hoggy in the house

 Why do things only work when you don’t need them? At last the heat-wave has arrived here in South West France and so the fridge in our camper has packed up, once again, just as we are about to head off to Spain.  This is the second time this has happened but for a few weeks there it did right itself. Of course all the gas engineers are either busy, on holiday or on strike, so it's down to me to voodoo the thing back into working order again, or suffer with warm beer for 3 weeks. Shouting at it does not work. Talk about taking away the umbrella when it starts raining. 

Before we head off west I am back in Blighty for a couple of days, at a sheep sale, trying to buy some more of those teddy-bear things. I say trying, as a few years ago nobody really wanted Ryelands, but now they seem to be the hottest property around and prices are rocketing. I think that is called the law of sod! Once I have bred a few to sell, of course, the wheels (or legs) will have fallen off again, and we will have mutton back on the menu, but I live in hope. The trip won't be without its fraught problems, with tests and retests to organise and pay for as the government still tries to steal all our money through their medical entrepreneurialism but I guess this will be the di-rigour for international travel for a while to come yet.

Talking of overseas trips, my wife presented me with a present for my 60th birthday of two tickets to see Billy Joel, in none other than Madison Square Gardens, NYC, in January. I only hope we can travel a bit more freely by then, as old William can't have many more tours left in him and I have yet to see him live. She also bought me a new sheep crook, as my old one broke long ago, which I would quite like to take to said sheep sale next week. Basically it is just a walking-stick, only slightly longer but apparently you need to be infirm to carry a walking-stick or else I will be charged to put it in the hold? I cannot find the exact ruling on the internet as when I type in the word 'crook' and 'Ryanair' into Google it comes back with Michael O'Leary!

Back to the subject of sheep I have to report that Daisy Death-wish is still alive and well, as is her daughter, Dreda, but she won't be for much longer if she keeps escaping and eating my garden. Last night I physically chased her three times round the swimming pool as she ducked and dived - well not literally dived - to avoid capture. Then, when she gets bored with that she just hops over the electric fence like Mutaz Barshim on steroids. I was considering retiring her from breeding this year as she approaches her tenth birthday but not now, she's fitter than I am. So another year in the penance of motherhood for you, you auld goat!

Last month I introduced our new kitten, whose official name is now Hoggy, after the Scottish rugby player Stuart Hogg. However, he seems to have taken to the name in more ways than one, demanding meals every three hours and making gallant attempts to help himself wherever possible. You may recall we had two ginger cats, one as gentle and loving as a cat can be, the other a thieving wretch with the mind of a criminal genius. Well unfortunately the latter got into a fight and bit off more than he could chew, sadly coming home to die on the morning our big party.  At least he wasn’t around to steal the vol-au-vents. I only hope, in his final days, he didn't pass on some of his trade secrets on to this wee one, like opening a locked fridge for example. Time will tell.

Fridge? Don't mention bloody fridges to me.


Sunday 1 August 2021

Bring on the Border Terrorist

 I recall I finished off last month's column suggesting I would soon be back in France, gin in hand. And in one hand, it has been, but sadly not both, since I took a fall last week and dislocated my shoulder. And that was pre-gin! To begin with, a week off work was actually quite welcome, as I put my feet and arm up, whilst swilling down a cocktail of painkillers. However I need to get back to work now, as various writing deadlines are looming near and the thistles are towering above the sheep, but these jobs are about as easy to a one-armed person as my dog doing the crossword! For example, my old Ford 3000 tractor has no power steering, so I can hardly ask Wendy to get on with mowing grass. I could, in theory, dictate some words for her to write but I have tried that before with some computer technology that supposedly listens to me - and it wrote total gobbledygook. So, here I am, pressing on with one hand at the keys, the other in a rather grubby sling, delivering this piece.

We are currently mid sport season. Thankfully, the footie is over and done with and, despite the best efforts of the media whipping everyone up into a frenzy, seemingly the ball neither knew where home or the goal was supposed to be.  But there are still plenty more disappointments in the tennis, golf, Olympics and the British Lions to look forward to, so it isn’t quite all over.

Meanwhile, we have gained a creature amongst our menagerie. Since we lost Spike, one of our elder cats, a few months ago we have been co-habiting quite happily with just three. Then, on Tuesday morning, a wee scrap of a kitten turned up in the tool shed, in exactly the same way that Spike did 10 years earlier. I know most tabbys look alike but he does bear a spooky resemblance to the old one. I stamped my foot for a few days, trying to give him away to all and sundry, but the combination of female bribery and social media eventually caused me to relent. As yet, he still remains un-named, in case someone wants him back, but he is a cheeky wee scoundrel with a character three times his size.

On the subject of pets and characters, as our two old dogs reach octogenarian status, I am on the lookout for a puppy of the Border Terrorist variety, and have been for a while. However, it not only seems that they are as rare as hen's testicles but, when you do track one down, they cost somewhere near a million quid each! Apparently, Covid has done for the price of dogs, what Gareth Southgate did for waistcoats sales, with everyone wanting a wee pal to take for a walk rather than staying at home annoying their partners. Admittedly, they are a bit cheaper here in France, if you can find one, but still cost more than a family car and, post Brexit, I am not sure they will be issued with an access-all-UK passport anymore.

Which brings me neatly round to the fact that Wendy and I are now officially resident in France, rather than drifters who have to leave the place every few months. Our application for a Carte de Sejour was sent in last September and this week we finally got our appointment to go and see the nice lady who took our photos and fingerprints, which in my case was rather tricky. The interview was in French but fairly simple and we didn’t have to sing both verses of Le Marseillais, which I had been swotting up on. Now all we need to do is watch the post-box for our ID cards to arrive which, apparently, will take a further three months and we are home and dry.

If only it were dry **sigh** as this has been the worst summer, weather-wise, since we bought this place 14 years ago, with rain every week and more forecast. Who'd want to live in a climate like that?  Oh yes, me!

Did I mention we have a BIG birthday coming up next month? No? Well we do.    

Thursday 8 July 2021

Skunkmoggets make good hats.

 I have absolutely no idea where I am writing from this month, as a whirlwind trail follows me around the country. I know I saw a road sign saying Norfolk, a while back. Or was that Newark? Or Nantwich? Anyway, as you can tell, these last few weeks have been even more hectic than the usual turmoil that surrounds my existence on this planet. All I can recall is we left France a few weeks ago, I have had at least four negative tests for Covid, and some vaccine, and am now healthier that most athletes, although one test did suggest that I was three months pregnant!

For the last couple of days I have been talking, non-stop, mainly about sheep and things associated with them, as I provided TV commentary for the Royal Highland Show. I have to say it was great fun, if not a little tiring, and I hope the 60,000 folks who tuned in enjoyed my offerings, although I must apologise for a slip of profanities when my laptop blew off the table, as did my sandwiches, as the wind raged through our commentary box! I now know much more about Shetland sheep than most folks in Shetland, and am schooled in the differences between two variants of Blue Leicesters, and the spectrum between Blue Texels and Coloured Ryelands. For instance, a Katmogget is a shade of Shetland wool that may or may not be knitted into a cardy, whereas a Skunkmogget is more suited to making a rather fetching hat such as, but not exclusively, a Tam-o-shanter. I can also report that most people who breed Shetland sheep are rather eccentric, verging on mad, and many of them appeared to have got dressed in the dark, but I won’t be too harsh on them, as they generally seemed to have a sense of humour.

Unlike the man in the Camper parked next to me who has just asked me to move over by exactly one point two metres, as I was not quite in the centre of our pitch. He, whose name is Mike, is the very reason we never use caravan parks if we can help, as his beard and his self-important hi-viz vest are the epitome of everything that I detest in society. Always have, always will. The only reason we have had to divert into such a shared space is that the gas fridge has packed up on our camper, and most of the food in it is now growing with mould. With an overnight electric hook-up I may well be able to salvage the few Aldi steaks that we bought last week before they are fed to the dog who, unlike me, has the constitution to tolerate green meat. Not only that, but I do prefer my Chardonnay below room temperature and am not going to be denied by his milk-monitor attitude.

Now I have had a chance to look around, I have suddenly remembered where we are headed, as we need yet another test for Covid in case I have developed it since yesterday, before we are allowed back into France at the weekend. And the only place we can get one, for some bizarre reason, is in Kings Lynn! So, we are parked at none other than Sandringham estate. I am not sure if Her Majesty is in residence although I am assured she was listening to me on TV yesterday, and gave us the thumbs up. Perhaps when my patience runs out with meddling Mike next door, and I go round and stove his caravan lights in, I may get removed from said estate and any hopes of the ‘By Royal Appointment’ I was working towards will disappear with the fenland tide, so I will need maintain as much restraint as possible.

In an attempt to catch up with my eldest son, tomorrow we are off to Crystal Palace soccer ground where, for reasons I am unsure, they not only have a massive stadium but yet another camper park around the back, which one assumes is normally reserved for home supporters. I have yet to Google what colours I should adopt to fit into that category but assume my Katmogget cardigan should sit somewhere in the neutral ground of premiership strips. Unless, by pure chance, Shetland United happen to be playing in the away end.

See you on the other side, when I intend to be back home in France with gin in hand. Toodlepip.


Friday 14 May 2021

Paper trails

 And then it came, rain, rain, rainy days. At least we have some grass now, although since we took the jackets off the ewes they are spending most of their time sheltering in the shed, wanting feed. The last few days I have been checking through the lambs to see which ones we may keep for breeding, compared to the ones off to the abattoir, always a tricky and unthankful task. I am pleased to say that Daisy's lamb has made the cut, if you pardon the unfortunate choice of expression, and will remain at Chauffour for a year or two as one of the finest sheep we have bred. That is, of course, if she doesn’t drown in a puddle first! We also have Roger back here. He was a young ram we bought 5 years ago, then sold to a couple 200 kilometres away, who recently sold up and returned to England and gave him me back. In a weird course of events, we are about to sell him again, to the people who have bought the farm from the folks who went back. I think they should rename him, Roger Zigzag!

Having decided not to go to UK to help get our giant cracked window pane replaced in Scotland this month, I am happy to announce they have managed the job without me, which gives me a great sense of relief whilst simultaneously making me feel rather unwanted. However, I have since been summoned over to UK, to do some work in my new career as someone who can spout rubbish for hours on end. Well, it is not exactly a new trait, but recent in the sense I am getting paid for it. For I have been asked to join the livestock commentary team for the Royal Highland Show, which this year will be held behind closed doors, but televised. So, if you want to hear me standing behind a door, check out a TV station near you on 14th & 15th of June when I will be prattling on about 30 different varieties of sheep for seven hours per day or until everyone dies of boredom.

This, of course, will rely on the fact that I have been tested for Covid some four or five times at scandalous expense, before I can set foot outside of my door into the Scottish wind and rain. The mission is far too complicated for me to itinerate and will require the skills of a Ghurkha, if only to collect up the trail of paper left in my wake.  Perhaps I should have declined the invitation in favour of sitting by our pool drinking gin and watching someone else make a fool of themselves on TV, but it's too late to back out now. On the subject of Covid, we have both had our first Pfizer jabs, not that our inoculation will save us from this testicle farce. Did I say testicle? I meant testing spectacle, but I think you get my drift.   

Meanwhile, also in Scotland, we wait to hear the news of not-if, but when, the nation will get another 'once in a generation' chance to chose to remain as a functioning entity or spiral into the event-horizon of delusional dissolution. In the event of the latter occurring, whether will Boris take time out from his wallpapering to rebuild Hadrian's Wall remains to be seen, but one thing I can be certain of is that our taxes will go up on the north side of it and that gives me the heebeegeebees. Personally I blame Mel Gibson for running around on screen in make-up and a skirt, and will be sending him a piece of my mind at the first opportunity!

Still keeping me busy, my podcast seems to be bounding forward in leaps until we have now attracted a main sponsor called Harbro Feeds from Aberdeen, in return for a couple of mentions per weekly instalment. Recent episodes have included a chap in Ireland who sells hundreds of cows per month on the internet, a man in USA who runs 45,000 cattle and an upcoming chat with one of the guys who cloned Dolly the Sheep. Who would have thought in my twilight years I could have found something that not only interests me immensely but thousands of other people too.

Finally: Finally, we are allowed to go to the pub!

The End!




More rugs than Charlie Sheen

 We actually had a shower of rain on the weekend and the lambs hid in the shed, while their mum's danced about in it. At 5 weeks old, that was the very first rain they had seen and they had no idea what it was! As you can imagine they are getting slightly short of grass after a spell like that, despite the long wet winter we have endured, but what has compounded it is these persistent frosts we are still getting at night. Twice they have nipped the tops of my young potato plants, the herb garden has been in and out of the house on a daily basis and the lemon tree has seen more rugs than Charlie Sheen!

I have been kept busy by barricading in our brown dog whose failing eyesight now has led him to stray onto the road a few times. So the bullet was bitten and, after much work and expense, we now have two shiny new pairs of gates on the front of Chauffour. It would have been far cheaper to get a new dog, but at least it keeps Mrs F happy. I have also been busily concreting over various places, a pastime that plays havoc with my knees, but at last we have somewhere to park the camper rather than under my window. I say camper, I mean campers, plural, as we have still not managed to sell the old one. It's not that nobody wants it but more it is in some sort of bizarre state of Brexiteer limbo. As it is left hand drive, we have now got a French MOT (called a CT over here) on it but are unable to persuade the local authorities that it is road worthy in France without a certificate from the original manufacturers to say so. Except the original manufacturers no long exist, having been bought out by Hymer and they say they are unable to furnish us with such document. This is despite the fact that it was originally built for the French market. So it sits on the drive on British number plates, awaiting the bureaucrats while just about every day someone stops and asks if it is for sale. From where I sit, you folks who put your cross in that box a few years ago have a lot to answer for!

It's not that we can drive it anywhere, even it was legal, as we are still in bloody lockdown 3. Which means everyone can mingle together in the supermarket, garden centres and hair dressers, but we still can't go out for lunch or to the pub. We were planning on heading to UK in May, just for a pint, but that seems less and less likely since the British government have been taking back-handers from a few hundred companies, all of whom want to charge us three hundred quid each to get a Covid test. Not just one, but a series of them, in case some of them are not accurate, despite the fact that everyone is vaccinated up to the hilt. Ludicrous doesn’t cover it, that's for sure. A friend of mine works for a company that manufactures these testing kits and, trust me, the mark-up being taken out of that privatised sector would make Jeff Bezos blush!

I mentioned Louis the pointless pointer who is now 14 years old and still no more intelligent that a pallet of breeze-blocks. When the clocks went forward a short while ago, his simple time calculator somehow got confused and went in the other direction. So now he has decided that he gets up in the dark, at around 6am, to go to the toilet, every morning. Talk about the days lengthening, ours have just about doubled. I say ours, but really it is my dear wife who attends to that chore as she knows I am only even more grumpy if I don’t get my seven hours these days. Anyway, I find getting out of bed hard enough as it is, lately, after all that hard graft. Anyone got a spare set of knee joints they are not needing? Preferably ones that don’t crackle like a bowl of Rice Crispies every time any weight goes on them!



Stockman of old

 Cannot believe it is only a year ago when I wrote this piece from the top of a mountain ski resort, the glare of glorious sunshine hindering my vision. At the time I was scathing of the doom-sayers who predicted Armageddon and prophesised catastrophic death throughout the world. Even when the extent of the problem did sink in, I never once believed that we would all still be here in lockdown, living in fear and isolation, a year later - but here we are. Thankfully the roll-out of the inoculations has been swift and efficient, and the light at the end of the tunnel beams brighter by the day but even I, a man who normally sees the glass three-quarters full, cannot foresee anything other than financial depression of unprecedented scale before the world gets back on to its feet. And yet, somehow, with stiff upper lip we all soldier onwards and upwards, blinkered like moths to the flame. Whether this a testament to human nature, or just plain foolhardiness, only time will tell? From my cynical standpoint I sincerely believe it's time that good old GREED found a reverse gear for a while, and we start saving our pennies for what could well be a very bleak and rainy day a few years down the line. Yes I am aware that this is not an opinion you expect, nor require, from this column, particularly just now, as the daffodils bloom brightly and the days lengthen towards the sunshine, and it is certainly a rare thing for me to preach sensibility over hilarity. I just somehow feel compelled to caution those who are looking to celebrate a victory with profligate abandon to be careful, as nobody on higher ground seems to have mentioned it?

Ah, that's better now I got that off my chest. Meanwhile, back at Chauffour the lambs are growing. The incessant rain did stop for a week or so while they were born, although it is back again now. We have one more left to go, due next week, and are also still awaiting news of our pedigree Ryeland gimmer who is in someone else's hands in UK just now. There has been an announcement that the Royal Highland show will go ahead this year in a new and closed-door format, but with the subtext that no alcohol be allowed on the premises, which I am pained to say has dampened my enthusiasm for the event somewhat. So, apart from a sortie into Scotland to deal with some well needed property maintenance as soon as we are legally able, we have decided to stay put here in France for another season. The fact that both of us will be celebrating a rather significant birthday this summer, we may expect a few guests to join us, proffering their vax certificates at the tollgate. But therein hangs another issue of ridicule, doesn’t it? Had a vaccination? Put a stamp in your passport to say so? But no, we now get those who refuse this on discrimination grounds. Their argument: 'it may restrict the rights of those who have refused a vaccination!' Er Hello? That's exactly what it's meant to do. Well anyone who has declined the chance to stay alive through modern medicine isn’t welcome at our gaff, sorry! Does anyone else see the irony that those who campaign for human rights are all left!? Or is that just me seeing humour in the wrong places again?

With the arrival of spring we have been embarking on some mild tree pruning, to allow the evening sun on to the front of the house. However, this elicited the interest of our neighbour who turned up in a very smart suit and I suspected he had not come to help. It transpires that he hadn’t come to complain either, but to inform us that we needed to do more - a lot more. Because, since he retired from being our local Mayor, he has now become the big boss of the entire commune, which is roughly the size of Wales, and thus is a man in a position of almighty power. And, as he is working from home like the rest of us, he wants faster internet, by way of fibre optic. However, the new cable needs to pass our gate where the pole is currently overgrown with some massive fir trees. Our trees. And if we move them, we can get fibre-optic too, if we want it? IF WE WANT IT? I have been screaming at our p*ss-poor service for the last 14 years. You bet we do. So, with the help of a pal, some long rope, my 50 year old Ford 3000 and a less than reliable old chainsaw, we have been felling these 60 foot high beasts one at a time. Two down so far, four more to go. It's not a job for the feint hearted, nor for a man with dodgy knees. Admittedly, so far we have managed to chop the existing phone line, came close to plunging the whole neighbourhood into darkness, nearly flattened a passing family car and will need a bonfire larger than Notre Dam, but imagine being able to load a webpage on the internet in under a minute? What speedy bliss awaits!   

In other news this month I have just been inducted onto a roll of honour up North. The Scottish Farmer magazine runs a feature called Stockmen of our Time and this week featured yours truly. In a full page interview I reveal my beginnings showing cattle at Kidderminster Market Christmas show and how I invented the world's number one cow cosmetic in a shed in my garden in Menithwood. I also mention taking cows to Australia, winning Royal Smithfield Show, writing a cattle computer programme and my father's mantra 'win or lose, we'll have some booze!' No wonder the heading read, 'Andy Frazier, he gets around a bit!' Who reads this rubbish anyway! 



Granpa's Ribena

 Welcome to a spring edition of life on the farm down South-West-France way! Rain, rain and then some rain pretty much sums up our few months this year so far. The pond is flooded, the fields are flooded, the wine cellar is flooded and I think our sheep flock are suffering from trench-foot! At time of writing we have yet to have lambs, as we pushed lambing back 3 weeks, to accommodate what we thought may have been a couple of spring months in Scotland. Sadly, that is not possible, so the wellies have been second best option this year, but at least the lambs will have some daffs to eat when they arrive.

I have still been occupied with my regular podcast and even got to interview one of R&DN's previous writers, Clive Davies, a few weeks ago, about Hereford cattle and the great Captain de Quincey from Bodenham. You will be glad to know Clive is fine and well. It certainly seems to take up my time and now I am wondering how I can wriggle out of it once the outside jobs start calling my attention.  But I expect, as with most of my life, I will just have to juggle on the unicycle for a while.

Today we are taking a last jaunt away in the camper down to the Bay of Biscay for a couple of nights before lambing, as the sun is supposed to be shining down there. From my experience, the weather in that part of the coast is about as predictable as a British Rail timetable, but we live in hope of a walk on the beach with our two ageing dogs, without the hoods up on our kagools. We will still need to take our BBQ though, as there are no signs of any restaurants opening in France this side of summer, as yet. And what is this ridiculous nonsense about pubs opening in UK but NOT selling alcohol? That's the social equivalent of sight-seeing in a blindfold? "Mine's a pint of Ribena" are not words that you will hear this author saying in the Rock Cross any time soon!

On the subject of the old neighbourhood, I am sorry to announce the loss of my dear old Aunt Joan, my father's sister. Born at Fernhalls Farm, on The Greenway in Rock, she was stationed in Egypt during the war and then lived in the lovely Link Elm house in St Johns, Worcester. When her husband died suddenly, in the mid-eighties, she moved back into Fernhalls and nursed my grandfather, Harry, in the last years of his life. Some of you older Rock-ites might remember her gorgeous navy blue MGB GT? Joan lived in Sandbanks in Dorset for the later part of her time, and more latterly in a nursing home. Sadly she was a victim of bloody Covid, aged 97.

Incidentally, on the subject of soft drinks, it was actually my grandfather who invented said Ribena. I didn’t know that until yesterday while providing some research on my aunt for her rather lonely funeral. It wasn’t just him on his own, but apparently seven fruit farmers who got together to create the brand which they later sold to Beechams. Some of you may remember the blackcurrant bushes growing down The Greenway, along with all the other fruits that Harry planted and maintained, when he would employ upwards of 100 local pickers during autumn. Funny how times change, as the land now would barely financially support one person, let alone half the village, yet you can still buy a pack of mince and some spuds for under two quid!

Whilst we are reminiscing about the old place, I found some photos the other day from 1982 showing snow drifts down the Greenway up to the level of Highfields House bedroom windows. I recall I had a morning’s shovelling with the farm digger to clear the road and, with the stock all fed, we were all in the pub by lunchtime! And that was a mild winter compared to ‘63 and ‘47 before it, so I’m told. They don’t make things like they used to, do they? Not even the weather!


Saturday 23 January 2021

Captain curfew

 Opps, so busy this month I nearly missed my slot. I think it was Douglas Adams who said, ‘I love deadlines, I like the whooshing sound they make as they go speeding past!’

The main reason for my distraction has been the podcast that I started last month, which seems to have taken off. Subject matter, and interviewees have expanded until this week we were discussing the fascinating Chicago stockyards with a cattle historian from Colorado. I have been running a ‘legendary cattlemen’ series, chatting with current breeders about some of the great breeders of yesteryear. Hopefully soon we will be covering Captain Richard de Quincey Quincey, someone who some of you older readers will recall as one of the greatest Hereford cattle breeders of all time, from Marden in Herefordshre. My father used to mention him but I had no idea what a clever man he was, not only breeding cattle but horses, dogs, birds and garden flowers at The Vern.

But, at this present moment, I will admit, I am sitting in the camper, while we take a well earned few days break by the coast. We are parked just below the world’s largest sand dune, a place called Pyla, just south of Bordeaux, a pile so big that can be seen from space.  I have the curtains drawn as the sun blasts in and am annoyed I forgot to pack my shorts. With the odd daff poking through the ground one could be forgiven for thinking Spring has sprung but I never get drawn into that myth until lambing has passed, which is still 6 weeks away as I write. And it is still minus four in the evenings. You will note we are still in France, our first winter here for 8 years, which has been somewhat tedious but necessary. As yet, we are still covid free and generally keeping our head down and away from others. We are still unsure where the vax will come from but I am sure there are still more folks needier than us as yet.

I’m not going to bang on about Brexit and covid, we have all had enough of that through the media, but would like to hope we have turned a corner on both of those subjects at last, so let’s keep fingers crossed. As we pass the year mark of the latter, which kicked in whilst we were one a skiing holiday, I am not sure any of us saw what was coming, nor how resilient the human race was.

However, we are still under curfew here in France, which has been extended from 8pm to 6pm. Normally this wouldn’t make a hoot of difference to us, as we rarely go further than our sitting room other than taking the dogs out for 30 minutes each afternoon. The bars and restaurants have been closed here since October, so no chance of nipping out for a beer. But now we are in the camper, I am not sure what complies, and nobody can tell me. Am I allowed outside the door to sit in a chair by the fire I lit at five? And if so, how far can I go from my door? Can the dog go out for a pee, with or without me? The last time I lived like this was at boarding school, when smoking was forbidden after 7pm unless you were a prefect or had special permission from matron! I would turn to social media for help but I have already p*ssed off just about every bearded wannabe headmaster in the land, just by mentioning I was heading out in the camper at all. Apparently, I am being irresponsible, leaving my homeland for my own entertainment. Despite the fact that the only person I have so far encountered was a lame farmer with an even lamer dog, inspecting his animals 200 yards away, I am deliberately putting lives at risk, according to John from Leicester, who knows things about things in general. Mary T even went so far as to say that it was me who killed her granny, or definitely someone like me. You see, social media has this power, this ability to provoke argument and incite hatred from an anonymous standpoint, and that is starting to keep me awake at night. In fact when an ex-president can use it to start a civil war, isn’t it about time we switched it off and went back to reading a book?

Stoned Martin.


Am I allowed to say Happy New Year? I won't curse it, or anything? Only the last one wasn’t so great so we must surely get an improvement this time round? Of course, as always with this column, I am in a time delay and still stuck in the bastard that was Twenty-twenty! In fact, so much so that my belated rantings for last month didn’t actually make the December deadline... not quite sure why.

Anyway, here we all are, in a year of optimism, and out of Europe. In fact, when this article gets to publication Wendy and I may still be in that state of 'Deal/No deal', sitting at the docks in mobile-home limbo. Unless a governmental miracle has occurred, we will only be bringing half a dozen gallons of wine instead the usual tanker full and our dogs will be under even more scrutiny, if they are allowed in at all. Our plan is to stay in Scotland for five or six weeks, so I can get a few things done on the house and shout to our friends through the letterbox, before heading back to France for spring. Highly likely the pubs will still be closed on both sides of the channel as the world waits in reclusive anticipation until we can all get the needle and bolster the coffers of the already swollen pharmaceutical colossus.  I have no idea whether the vaccs will include us during the time we are there, or whether we will have to stand embarrassed at the back of the non-European queue for a jab here in France. That is, of course, if we are actually allowed back in. If not, then maybe M. Macron could lamb our ewes for us, please? Every lamb counts now you can't buy any from UK and pass it off as your own. Ooh how I would love to air my political views on how farmers will fare under Brexit but, to be honest, I haven’t got a Scooby of what will happen, good or bad. And nor have they.

Anyway, to fill the void of getting out for a blether with a few folks over the last month, I have taken to talking to the world online through means of a podcast. Entitled Toplines and Tales, I recently set up a platform where I can chat over the internet to some interesting people, edit it, and then load it up for the world to listen to. Well, not all the world, obviously, they don’t all want to hear us boring old farts babbling on about cows, sheep and parties at agricultural shows, but I was rather surprised how many do. Judging by the amount of downloads we are getting, I seem to have struck a chord with our livestock community, both young and old, and in these times of social starvation I am quite pleased to be of service. This, of course, has been an added distraction to the novel I started writing last month but I suppose I will get around to finishing that one day. 

Meanwhile, back at the Euro-steading we have had a couple of extremely dry months studded with some frosty nights and everything looks as it should for the time of year. For some reason, for the first time in its 14 year life, the lemon tree has started to bear fruit, much to the delight of our gin cupboard. I am sorry to say things aren’t great on the cat front, where one of the elder ones has been hanging on to life for quite a while, and I doubt he will see Christmas, whereas another has gone missing for longer than is usually accountable. We also have an intruder, rattling around the eaves at night like some sort of poltergeist. After much research we believe this is in the form of a Pine Marten, a weaselly like creature who has adopted our place for his nocturnal goings-on. We are not a hundred percent certain he is the European species, which are actually native to UK, and has therefore been politely asked to leave or, as some others suggest, his distant cousin, a Stone Marten. I wish he was stoned, at least he would sleep more, bloody noisy creature! 

Finally I am glad to announce that Emma, the Ryeland gimmer that we purchased at Worcester in August and one of Britain's best travelled sheep, has eventually made the journey from South West Wales to central Scotland, where she is settling in for lambing. However, like most of us, she missed the shears this year and arrived with so much lock-down hair that she has had to undergo a rather embarrassing short back and sides before she goes out to meet her new pals!