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!