Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Carlsberg Cauldron

 Whoosh, there it goes again, that deadline rushing by at great speed. Had I written this a few days ago, when I should have done, I would be once again berating the French weather with its cold rain and wind, but thankfully this weekend it has at last furnished us with a few rays of summer which will hopefully last more than a couple of days.

This, of course, is silly season in the garden but with too many other work commitments at present I leave a lot of that to my lovely wife. However, unfortunately she failed to see the tree stump that I have spent the last 15 years avoiding with the lawnmower, the consequence of which was a loud bang, lots of smoke, a big pool of oil and its instant death. So, after many years, we have now invested in a new shiny toy with a comfy seat on it along with some red and white tape around the no-go areas. Thankfully, the new machine has some headlights on it, in case I need to shoehorn in a midnight cut!  I mean, really? That’s about as useful putting climbing shoes on a cat!

This time of year is also rugby season and last weekend we took off south in the camper to see a few European games. Doing her research, Wendy spotted on the internet a parking place ideally situated within a few minutes’ walk from the stadium in Toulouse. Nearby were a few bars and restaurants, perfect. What we hadn’t bargained for was it was also the local drug-dealing spot, where cars came and went all through the night, fulfilling their procurement. We have since found out it was also a local ‘dogging’ site, whatever one of those might be!  Anyway, the rugby was great although the Toulouse fans were less than enamoured with the ref after he sent off one of their players for being reckless and hence them losing the match to the Northern Irish. To say they were a little hostile is like calling Putin a naughty boy. Poor man had to be escorted off the pitch after the final whistle by a couple of burley security guards.  Next day we made it to Montpellier, a city bathed in sunshine, and an atmosphere far removed from the cauldron of the previous match, including a win for Wendy’s beloved Harlequins. A few beers in Molly Malones and then parked up by the beach, where there wasn’t a dog in sight! If Carlsberg did rugby weekends, then the Heineken cup would one of them!

We are now on a countdown to our two months trip away in the camper, touring UK for a number of reasons including a family wedding, a jubilee party, some sheep-shopping, a couple of major ag shows and another stint on TV. Yes, it may be an exhausting time but we might as well shoehorn in as much as we can in the shortest time. Our three Ryeland sheep are gaining condition nicely and we have reasonably confident hopes that they won’t let the side down at the Royal Highland show in mid June. Unfortunately, as I am again on the commentary team for the event, my inexperienced wife has been tasked with the duty of exhibiting said beasts, whilst I ridicule her from the comfort of the commentators box. As if I would?   

Looking after Chauffour for the duration we have appointed a rather nice couple to house-sit, as it happens a Jamaican/Danish pairing. To get to know them better we invited them round for lunch, only to find out that he is/was a top chef and they were both vegetarian. Naturally I rose to the challenge by providing a top meal consisting of a plate of spaghetti with a few bits of fish in it but they didn’t seem to mind and the deal was sealed over a glass of chardonnay. Not only don’t they eat meat but they are also very conscious of where the food comes from, sourcing everything organic. I have offered them the use of our vegetable patch only to be declined because I admitted I occasionally use Round-Up to keep the weeds at bay. Oh well, all the more for us then. At least the lambs will be saved from the bbq until we return.

On that subject, we enjoyed a fine shoulder of lamb just yesterday, shared with friends that included my old pal, an ex-rockite who once lived on the greenway. Much reminiscing was done over a few glasses of red and probably most of this readership were talked about in one way or another, in case your ears were burning, Ed?

And with that, I must dash, due on the golf course in an hour, complete with large hat to stop my own ears burning. Four!  

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

High speed draft

 As a farmer I am conditioned to moan about something, so the fact we have far too many lambs this year is unsurprisingly a headache. Six ewes had sixteen lambs, how ridiculous? And to cap it all, the final set of triplets only has enough milk to feed one of the little blighters! I am getting too old to be feeding pet lambs so we have hopefully found someone to do that duty for us.  At least Daisy is managing her twins quite well, although she is never too far from the over-priced feed bag.

Thankfully the weather was fairly kind through lambing but the wind has since turned into the east and that always catches us here at Chauffour, with a harsh cold blow catching the field, shed, lambs and draughty side of the house. My grandfather always said "when the wind is in the east, it's neither good for man nor beast!" He wasn’t wrong there.

The same wind also took our satellite dish but, in a simple twist of fate, this happily coincided with the installation of our new Fibre-optic internet cabling. Yes, after over a year since we chopped down a row of huge pine trees to make way for its entrance, we finally have download speeds I could only ever have dreamt of. So it's goodbye sketchy Sky, hello internet TV, all 300 channels of you. Admittedly, 295 of them are complete rubbish, unless you count the red-hot Dutch ones, but at least we can watch Pointless of an evening without Zander Armstrong sounding like a Dalek! Of course, with it comes a whole direct-line to depression. War, fuel prices, bombs and dying babies don’t make for uplifting viewing, as they tug my frayed heart-strings in a dozen directions, while the world watches the horror with helpless indignation. One can't help but wonder where this post-apocalyptic apocalypse will end but, as sure as eggs is eggs, the supply and demand rule will certainly apply to the price of food. In a year when we will be away for a couple of months of the growing season, I had decided not to grow any vegetables this time around but it may be time to rethink that process, even if I have to give them away in our absence. At least we may have extra lamb on the barbie, come summer!    

The beginning of our travels will see us rock up in Lincolnshire to my number two son's wedding. As a gift, I promised to provide French wine for the event but, since the B word, this poses less of a hurdle and more of a five-bar-gate as we are no longer allowed to bring in more than a dinner-party's worth of alcohol without facing tax, duty and a host of other invisible charges. Our other option is to 'ship' it in, but with all the above charges, a three quid bottle of claret lands in UK at around a tenner. Coupled with all the other taxes we are now forced to pay when buying UK goods back into France, has Brexit really been a worthwhile decision? Asking for a friend!

Continuing on the above theme, I had hoped to import our small flock of Ryeland sheep from Scotland back here to Chauffour this year but again it seems that what were, just a couple of years ago, perfectly healthy animals now have to undergo so many unrealistic tests you would think I have bought them from a leprosy enclosure. In a period where restrictions of travel have been lifted so people can come, and go and refugees and immigrants are welcome, isn’t it time someone took a look at these ridiculous livestock rules with their sensible-specs on? I can of course import stock from Ireland to France without so much as a veterinary inspection, where obviously their animals are apparently free of everything from Scrapie to Spud disease. Yeah, right! Pull the other one, it rattles!

I mentioned a few months ago that we had applied for, and received, residency in France which means we are allowed to stay here more than three months per year without being deported. Seemingly that too is not without its Brexit implications, and we now are duty-bound to fill in an annual fifty-page tax form here declaring everything we have bought, sold, visited or seen in UK over the previous twelve months, down to the last half-pint of warm beer. Maybe I should mention that while in Scotland we have to pay upwards of eight quid for a bottle of New World wine to get anything better than stuff not fit to pour on our French fries. Would that get me a rebate? Non, Monsieur, just pay your double-tax, or bugger off back to your land of Rosbif. What a fiasco!

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Sticky times

 For once, all the plans I made and mentioned last month have actually come to fruition. Currently we are rushing around sorting out the house by the North Sea, as well as trying to enjoy our time here. Whilst here we have decorated the place and then replaced cupboards and sofas as well as adding a new all-glass coffee table which is nigh on invisible. I have the bruises on my knees to prove it! We should be heading south again sometime next week, in Wendy’s new car. No, it’s not electric or even hybrid, I’ll leave others to spend their money saving the planet, while we trail-blaze down the motorway to France with 300+ horses under the bonnet. Poo, I hear you say but, once back in France, this nice little hot-shot Merc will barely do five thou per year, and those will be mainly shopping and posing with the lid down. And that, in my mind, doesn’t require me spending extra squillions to carry a trailer load of lithium batteries under the seat, just so I can out-smug my neighbour, whilst bemoaning anyone who dares park in your allocated blue space!

Again as mentioned, we had a cracking couple of weeks in Spain last month, overlooking the Med from the seventh floor in a quite swanky apartment which cost next to nothing. The weather was mostly in the late teens but the place was deserted apart from a few folks walking dogs for Pooper to bark at. Unfortunately most of the bars and restaurants were shut too but we made our own entertainment, and dinner, as it happens. As promised to myself, I took the time to finish my latest novel which is now in the cupboard for a while until I revisit it with fresh eyes. Eventually I worked out whodunit!

Today I have sticky fingers. That is to say I have spent 20 minutes trying to glue a small plate around the stop-tap under the stairs to stop the draft blowing in. However, as with super-glue the world over, it refuses to stay put and the only bloody thing that has been stuck is my fingers, all of them, together. It is like having webbed feet, and getting them apart again has been a massive issue, involving the misuse of any number of solvents.  Hence this column is once again late to the editor as I originally reverted to typing with my elbows! On that front, the steroid injection into my shoulder joint last month seems to have worked its miracles. I even had intentions of playing golf this week although work-time has gotten in the way. A trip to the physio this morning was quite revealing and going well until the guy asked me if I have an aversion to latex! What sort of a question is that to ask your patient? ‘I’m not overly keen on cyclists,’ I replied, only to be handed a couple of bands of the stuff with which I now need to do daily stretches to rebuild my shoulder muscles. Methinks I will get enough exercise lambing a few sheep, to be honest, but I’ll humour him, for now anyway.

On the sheep front, we got to see Beatrice and Basinga last week, our two latest Ryelands who are destined for the Royal Highland and Welsh shows this summer. It’s been a long while since I was at the Welsh and I have my father’s rather large footsteps to follow in at that event, but we’ll do our best. Basinga’s mum (she came with that name) won the Highland show in 2019, so she has something to live up to as well. My good pal Robert has them in top form already but I’m not sure they were too keen being bare shorn in January, although they were considerably warmer in Scotland than they would have been in France where the weather has been absolutely baltic. Hopefully it will pick up by the time we get to lamb our few ewes at the end of the month, so Daisy Death-wish doesn’t keep battering her way out of the field in search of food! Now in her tenth year, the auld girl hasn’t done so bad, since I fished her out of a snowy ditch at 2 hours old, thinking she was a gonna. Poor Skippy is not doing quite so well though, having lost a few teeth recently. I think it may be a diet of fruit-gums for him from now on.

Our house-sitter has turned out to be something of a character. A United Nations lawyer, she has intelligent chat and enjoys a drink and the occasional argument. Hailing from Copenhagen in Denmark, she has a much better grasp of the French language than I do, and I think she is looking to call France her home from now on. Well that’s kinda handy, because we have a lot of miles to cover this year, and Hoggy needs someone he/she can control when it comes to feeding time.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Jabba Jabba

Hoorah, after over half a year I am at last back to reasonable health, albeit, about 8 stones heavier. While you were all getting you third jab, I got an extra one, with a 6-inch long needle, right into the ball joint of my shoulder and am I ever thankful for whatever was in it.  I was advised not to play sports for a few weeks, which was no big problem in this winter weather, and my rugby shirt may be a bit tight anyhow! However, I have this week, for the first time, been out cutting and collecting firewood, as we experience a deep freeze here in France. In fact, the weather has been so cold that tomorrow we are heading south to the Spanish coast for a few weeks of paella and sangria by the barrow-load. After that, assuming things have settled down, we will be in UK for a couple more weeks before coming back here again for lambing. That is, of course, if we remember to write on our immigration forms that we have just been to Spain, unlike poor old Novax, the silly sod!

Whilst in London, we are taking my son Sam to the opera, something I am pretty sure he hasn’t experienced before. I think I was his age when my father and mother dragged me to see La Boheme at the Birmingham Hippo in my rebellious Pink Floyd t-shirt! After which I was hooked on Puccini, and still am. I wonder if it will have the same effect on him? I am still not comfortable with being in an enclosed venue with hundreds of coughing people, a sad reflection on life, I suppose. Anyway, from there to collect some new wheels for the wife, a trip to Stirling Bull Sales to conduct a bit of business, then to Fife to sort out some furniture and our busy year has already sprung into life. We didn’t make it to UK for Hogmanay as planned and we were actually supposed to be in New York this weekend but everything got covid-cancelled last minute. I’m not too unhappy about the latter, not being a big fan of the US, apart from the fact that most Americans make me look thin!

On the work front, I have picked up where I left off two years ago, writing my first crime fiction novel. It makes such a refreshing change being able to make up baddies and places rather than having to stick to historical fact like I do in my day job. It sort of brings out the journalist in me! I plan on finishing it in Spain in the next fortnight, glass in hand. The plot is based around a distillery in West Scotland and uncovers a layer of corruption in the whisky industry, so if you don’t hear from me again, you will know that I stood on one too many toes and drowned in a vat of amber nectar. Damn, I have just given away the ending!  

On that point, Peter recently sent me a rant that I wrote for this magazine some years ago and, my, what an angry and controversial young man I was, bemoaning everything from the NHS to the M25. The editor even accused me of becoming mellow in my old age! So to that, I will have a mild bluster about a previous bug-bear of mine, Towny Blair: a man who has told more lies than Prince Andrew, OJ Simpson and Novak Djokovic put together. Having near bankrupted the country with his gross mis-handling of the Foot and Mouth crisis which left a staggering 6 billion pound invoice in its wake, he then took us to war, telling us he was searching for Saddam’s weapons when everyone and their dog knows it was really a testicle-holding alliance with George Bush to control the price of oil. It does make ‘forgetting you had a garden party’ sound fairly lame in comparison? Sir Tony, my arse! I wouldn’t trust that man to clean my f**kin windows!