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!