Thursday 17 November 2022

Padstow and potholes

 At last, in one place again, after three hard weeks on the road, most of which was enjoyable if not a tad tiring, with close to a couple of thousand miles of driving behind us. And tiring was certainly the order of the day at AgriExpo livestock show in Carlisle when myself and a colleague were set the task to speak about cows continually on TV for over 8 hours. Yes, that is a big challenge even for me. I think we coped OK and have already been asked back for next year’s event. Our few quiet days in the Lake District were cosy and mainly confined to indoors due to the weather, but one doesn’t go there for that really. We were highly fortunate to have a great pub, the Tower Arms in Sawrey, only 100 yards away, during which time we definitely became their ‘customer of the week’. We never did get to see Beatrix Potter’s house, although I was made to sit through the film, which was a little too Disney for my tastes.

What followed was the highlight of our time here, a couple of nights in the Feathers Hotel at Ludlow followed by a magnificent wedding of Sam (my eldest son) and Izzy at the ancient and luxurious Brynsop Court near Hereford. This place really did pull out all the stops, from its 13th century banquet rooms to a purpose built barn which its owners had purchased from the BBC and then re-erected it in all its glory in the grounds. Much drinking and dancing was to be had until the early hours when most of the guests were shipped back to Hereford on a bus. I say most, as somehow two of my nieces managed to miss their lift, but got there eventually. With games rooms, music rooms and lit fireplaces everywhere back in the grand building it would have been rude not to sample yet more hospitality as waiters appeared from the shadows with yet more grog until our palatial bedroom eventually called us in around 3am.  It was great to catch up with some of the boys’ old mates, all of whom I remember as bairns; so nice to see them all doing so well and many with bairns of their own.

From there we headed south again although soon realised that the roads in UK are so atrocious, what should have been a four hour trip to Cornwall quite a while longer as I zigzagged around endless potholes that would rattle the fillings out of your teeth, let alone plates out of our cupboards. Having done little or no work in the previous two weeks I had to sacrifice some of my downtime in our next wee cottage to the dreaded computer and microphone. However, we did get to see most of the hostelries in Padstow including a meal in Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant which was splendid. We also took the foot ferry to Rock (the other one) and sampled some of Paul Ainsworth’s food which, I have to say, was a tad ordinary and over-priced, particularly when the waiter persuaded me to have some ‘new Cornish’ potatoes as a side dish – In November? Three tiny ones duly arrived at the cost of seven quid! Even Shell would blush at making that much profit!

Next up was a trip back to Herefordshire, this time to an old school reunion at Lucton. I was hoping to see a classroom full of my old mates that joined me there 50 years ago but sadly only a handful turned up. We were treated to a roast beef dinner not dissimilar to the ones we endured half a century ago and then a speech from an ‘Old Boy’ which purveyed his life in minute detail from his post-war school days to date. I definitely heard snoring from the back benches, particularly during the bit about varying sizes of rivets in 1961. Afterwards I couldn’t resist having a smoke on the prefect’s lawn despite that fact that I am neither a prefect nor a smoker. Some things just have to be done!

Now, as I sit looking out at the North sea, wind and rain are still very much on the agenda, lashing against my window and throwing the waves up with it. Poor Haggis has been nearly swept away a few times although she did manage to catch a rather poorly pigeon which was as much a surprise to her as it was to it.  I believe it may even by raining back home in France this week – sacrĂ© bleu!

Tomorrow I have to interview the Minister of Agriculture for Scotland, in Edinburgh, who hasn’t been in the job very long. As my initial list of questions has since been sent back with a red line through most of them, particularly the ones about exports to France, maybe the weather is all we will have to talk about! I doubt she will accept the blame for all of it, though.

 

One hundred, not out!

 OK, so it’s off down the rabbit hole we go, as winter beckons with twisted claw and the media preaches more doom. I will admit that I do see a recession heading our way with its headlights on and have acted accordingly by down-sizing our property business. The irony of just how the UK managed to replace ‘Boris the Party-Animal’ with someone called Miss Trus(t) appears to have been lost on most people until next thing they know mortgage rates are in double figure and the banks are repossessing their new conservatories.  Just how Kwasi (wouldn’t ‘Spitting Image’ have had so much fun with these names?) thinks he can cut everyone’s taxes, give them money for winter fuel and still have some coffers in his already depleted piggy bank is way beyond my comprehension, let alone that of the world ‘s financial business. But, hey, I am not in power so I’ll just take the hand-outs alongside my fellow man and be grateful, my lord.

Strangely, the word Lord is very much on my agenda this month, as I once again trawl through the Scottish record books researching some of the Lairds of yesteryear. Recently I have agreed to collaborate on yet another giant tome of a history book about yet more cows and this time, to quote my American co-author, ‘we really are getting down into the weeds!’ I have no idea how many pages we will end up with but it certainly won’t fit in a Christmas stocking, that’s for darn sure! To be fair, there will be a lot of pictures, thousands in fact. Every time I so much as mention someone regal in my text, my pal provides us with at least a dozen ancient photos to back it up, many of them borrowed from national galleries around the world. For example, I am just discussing James Carnegie, the 9th Earl of Southesk from Kinnaird Castle who, as well as being a top cattle breeder happened to have spent some years tracking big cats in the Rocky Mountains and next thing, here is a photo of him looking like Wild Bill Hickok, draped in furs. I really have no idea where he gets this stuff from as when I Google the words ‘Hunting Cougars’ my inbox soon fills up with requests that would make a beetroot blush! Incidentally, I note you can actually stay at the beautiful Kinnaird Castle, so Mrs F and I have booked in for a couple of nights in spring. You can even, says their website, book out the entire place, all 20 bedrooms, if you so wish, complete with hot and cold running servants. Now there’s an idea for a non-party birthday party, Boris?

On the subject of books, I am about to unleash my first crime novel to the market. Based around a distillery on Scotland’s west coast, ‘The Master’s Spirit’ tells a tale of murder and mystery and unveils a trail of corruption within the whisky industry which may possibly get me into hot water with its authorities. With a couple of pals in that business, I am hoping that I can utilise their contacts to promote it through the amber nectar channels and, who knows, a few samples may even come my way. The novel will be available on Amazon soon (plug, plug!). With that and the above mentioned history book, coupled with another novel, a sheep history book and my biannual nonsense publication, that makes five books I have my hands into at this moment in time. I would also like to mention that this week see my 100th podcast hit the airwaves. Who could believe one tiny idea would have gathered such momentum, as well as a happy band of followers that keep it motivated and me busy a couple of days per week.

So, it is just as well I cannot walk at present. Yes, once again I am incapacitated, this time with my right foot swollen up like a boxer’s jockstrap, while I hobble about the house on a pair of crutches painfully muttering to myself and avoiding the puppy who has become number one trip hazard. The doctor says I should not spend my time sitting on my arse, a view reflected by Mrs F, as I will succumb to blood clots which may cause said leg to fall off. I’ll take my chance on that one, while I fill the void with yet more words and edits rather than working in the garden or fixing the roof.

In a couple of weeks we will once again be crossing the channel for our winter in the North, potentially with Mrs F at the wheel. En route I have picked up another commentators job, this time at a large Ag show in Carlisle where I will be discussing the rear ends of cattle in intimate detail on live TV broadcast across the world.  I even had to do a video-trailer for this one, saying how exited I am to be involved in such a monumental bovine occasion! While we are in that neck of the woods, my wife has booked us in to a quaint little cottage for a week in the village where Beatrix Potter was lived, perhaps to inspire me to write yet more novels.

 From there it is back to Herefordshire for my eldest son’s wedding at a rather lavish rural venue where I will be squeezed back into a morning suit which I may well have outgrown during my time of seatedness. Hopefully I will have discarded the crutches by that point, so I can hit the dance floor running, or wobbling at the very least. Finally, a trip to my old school for a celebration of 50 years since I first set foot in its draughty dormitory. Fifty bloody years?  Oh my, where on earth did that go? I wonder if my old English teacher will still be there with his red marker pen, shaking his head in horror at my appalling grammar? I bet he never knew there was such a word as seatedness!

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Whistlebiscuit

Were I a dog I am not sure what form I may take. There are times when I act like a Rottweiler, attacking and biting just about everyone in range, usually out of temper rather than malice to be fair. Other times I am just one of those shaggy Retriever things, soft as a ripe fig and about as intelligent, only with better hair. Then I have my Pointer moments when I want to run away, free as the wind with nothing more on my mind other than the maximum distance from everything around me.  Pointers do this, trust me, we had one for 14 years. Some days I can be cynical, like a Dachshund, sitting around summing everybody up, applying my own snippets of wisdom about them and generally taking the piss. Then there is the mongrel in me; unkempt, haphazard, lazy in a really busy kind of way, so much to do there's no time to fit it all in, so I chase my tail in hope I catch up with it all. Sometimes I do.

I proffer these scenarios as I am at present in the process of training Haggis, our wee Border Terrier pup. I have to say she is a sweetie, calm as a moonlit lake, both loving and kind, a model dog almost. I am not one who believes in re-incarnation or any other sort of supernatural mumbo-jumbo but if I were, I would find it incredibly hard to digest the fact that when I looked for a dog to replace Louis, our pointless pointer, I wished for one that would be all of the above, as he was, only with a little more obedience. And that pretty much, sums up wee Haggis. She is happy off her lead, unlike Louis was admittedly, and will generally follow to heel. She doesn’t want to attack every other dog she meets, unlike Pooper who has just about grown out of that phase at 15 years old. To the contrary, when she meets another dog she wants to play and kiss it, something that may backfire one day perhaps.

As has been mentioned many times before, neither of our last two dogs were well behaved, not when it came to being in public anyway. Much of this was down to the fact that we never made the effort to discipline them when they were young.  

So, I bought a whistle. Not just any whistle but one so high pitched it would fetch the tiles off the roof, let alone shatter your molars. Never being one to read a 'how-to' manual in my life, I reckoned that if the dog heard the sound and then received a biscuit, it would surely eventually work out a sense of recall, whistle=come here? Placebo at its best. Hmm. What I hadn’t also banked on was that this wee dog really is in the image of her predecessor Louis in the fact that she is a total foodie. Yes, the whistle/biscuit thing does work ok, but generally for the wrong reason. This is because she has worked out that during this training exercise, which carries on every day, I have pockets full of these munchy morsels. Hence, what is the point in being far away from me, when they are literally on tap. So now, instead of a wee dog, I just have a shadow following me round 24/7.

Well. At least it's better than running across ploughed fields chasing the damn thing, that's for sure. One thing I was advised before getting a Border was that they have a stubborn streak and that I can testify to. At present the stubbornness is to not bugger off from under my feet when she is told to, especially when I am carrying a tray of drinks, near the swimming pool. What could possibly go wrong?

    

Thursday 15 September 2022

Scratched bottoms

   Sadly my announcement of a successful rain dance last month came to nothing more than a passing shower. As we pass mid September here in Aquitaine we have still had no more than a few mills of rain since May and the place really is a dessert now. With 23 sheep in the field, they have now reverted to eating the thistles such is their hunger. This morning we pulled them into the yard to hopefully select few lambs for the abattoir but still they remain as skinny as a cheesy-thin, and still with zero chance of rain on the 10 day radar. At this rate they will be heading for Christmas dinner rather than summer BBQ. On the subject of sheep I can gladly report that Daisy Death-Wish is still with us, if only in a tripod fashion. Yes, the seeming indefatigable creature is now wobbling about the field and being fed on biscuits while the others live on very warm fresh air. Who would have thought it?

   At last we have some piece here at the French house after 6 weeks solid with guests. It was lovely to see everyone, particularly individually this year, but the sigh of relief we let out when the last ones left could have swept up the leaves! One thing I do miss though; when we have guests they act as a human shield for the mozzies, who love the sight and smell of pale English flesh. Since folks left the buggeratic little beasts only have us to chew on now and, even if we don’t taste very nice, everyone has to eat. Of course we have now run out of repellent, all used up by the twenty or so folks sleeping in our spare rooms, so are sitting ducks to their preying fangs. Meanwhile I have now got my own teeth back into some proper work, with an inexhaustible ToDo list that both tires me at the thought and keeps me awake at night. I think it was Gerry Adams who said 'I love deadlines, I quite like the whooshing sound as they going flying past!' Na, can't have been Gerry Adams, can it? That would read 'I love the sound of bullets flying past?' Somebody Adams anyway.

   As this column is entitled 'rantings' I do feel the need to vent some venomous words to the company, Microsoft. Having used their email software for a few decades I now get a message saying 'we no longer support your application..' I didn’t ask them for support, it works fine, thank you. Or it did do, until they have cut off my connection in an effort to force me to buy new stuff. I don’t want your new stuff, I shouldn’t need your new stuff. If I drive around in an old Mercedes with 4 million miles on the clock, that is my choice. The Germans won't come round and slash my tyres and force me to buy an electric go-kart? So how dare Bill Gates tell me how to run my life in cyberworld? Well Mr Gates, I no longer support your football team, so there. Bring back pigeon post, I say!

   A few weekends ago, Sam and I took the camper down to the coast for a boys weekend, which was great fun, if not a little hot. Thankfully not as hot as it had been a few weeks earlier when much of the Lande forest went up in smoke. The devastation around Cazaux, our favoured spot, was heart-wrenching with thousands of acres of tress charred to death. I had wondered why we got no answer when trying to book my favourite beach restaurant, only to arrive and find it raised to the ground, its scorched innards exposed to all and sundry. Oh well, life goes on and at least there will be a plentiful supply of charcoal for Barbie this autumn. If only we dared light it!

   On a more joyous trip we joined some friends and took half a dozen canoes down the river Dordogne last week, accompanied by 6 dogs including wee Haggis, who was none too keen staying onboard to start with. While I sat in the front nursing her and my poorly shoulder Mrs F sat in the back seat and rowed. Only she, by her own admission, hadn’t a faintest clue what she was doing and hence we went sideways or backwards down most of the rapids in a screaming frenzy. Eventually we swapped places and all was well in the water, particularly as we stopped at 4 different bars en-route for rehydration and pain killers! At present I think Haggis is coming into heat so we spent much of the time trying fend off a randy Fox Terrier from Liverpool called Jinxy, who was hell bent on jumping into our boat for some extracurricular sport. At least the oars came in handy! At 5 hours for a 12kms downstream trip, I'm sure the boat owners thought we had all perished, especially after they had seen us set off sideways. Fortunately, the water was only a few feet deep for most of the way, such is the drought in these parts, so we eventually arrived with nothing worse than a few scratched bottoms!       

   Finally I should mention the loss of our dear Queen Elisabeth. What a magnificent servant she has been to the country and I have seen her on numerous occasions when she visited and supported the agricultural shows over the years. It is a huge loss to our nation and I for one doff my cap to you, Ma'am. Having met Prince Charles a couple of times, I was never convinced he was up to the job of monarch but who am I to judge. I am sure he will make a good fist of it.

Long live the King!

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Sunshine Hotel

 Well, that was an exceptional spell. With nearly 12 weeks without rain, the whole place was a tinderbox where we were feared to even light the bbq. Thankfully myself and my numerous house guests Googled how to do a rain-dance, which involved much hilarity and alcohol, but guess what, it seems to have worked, as the skies opened for the first time yesterday! Having put our own personal spin on it, the ‘toe-heel-stomp boogie’ will shortly be for sale, should anyone wish to purchase such a technically successful product! As some will have seen, fires have been raging across France with our valley filled with smoke, despite the fact the flames are 50 miles away. Hopefully these recent showers will quell their anger for a while anyway but a lot of the Lande forest has been destroyed.

Our long and arduous road trip finally came to an end, when got back home safely some weeks ago now, to find the grass 3 feet high and the whole place overgrown. Unfortunately we just missed winning the Triple Crown with our Ryeland sheep, narrowly missing out at the Royal Welsh Show, ending with just Reserve Female Champion which, on any other year, I would have been quite pleased with. On reflection, we didn’t do too badly, coming home with 2 cups and 17 rosettes in total. By time this goes to print, our prized ram should have been sold at Worcester, hopefully for a reasonable price to a good home. Fingers crossed. We also managed to purchase a new ram as well as another female, taking our flock numbers up to a manageable four ewes.

I mentioned our house-guests, whom we have today dispatched back to Bewdley/Kidderminster, probably for a quiet rest. Meanwhile the next ones arrive tomorrow and so it continues as we restock the fridges once more. It has been a hard two weeks trying to stay hydrated in 40 degree heat but potentially my two sons and partners may have a cooler time here. I know one thing, by time we empty the house in mid September, I think we will be due a holiday ourselves. On that note, I had arranged to take a bunch of farmers on tour to Montana in mid Sept but a few technical difficulties have forced us to cancel that one. I’m not too sad, to be honest, as it may give me time to catch up with some work/sleep.

A character often mentioned in this column is our sheep Daisy Death-wish, now in her 11th year. Sadly a few days ago she jumped the fence to get at the neighbours crops and got her leg caught in the wire, where she then spent the night. We are doing our best to save her and bring her back to health but unfortunately with age against her the prospect doesn’t look great. Again, fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Haggis, the new terrier puppy in the house is settling in, being spoiled by all the guests and perhaps not getting the discipline she requires. I have to say, so far, she is far more placid than one would expect of a Border Terrier although she has taken command of most of the cats. She does have a stubborn streak in her though, choosing to ignore most of my instructions, but then, just about everyone in this house does that already. She is a bit of a foodie too, although attempting to steal Pooper’s food comes with it perils. The cats are none too keen sharing theirs either and the poor wee sole has had her ears boxed more than once.

In other news my weekly podcast Toplines and Tales is still going strong heading for our 100th episode. We were entered in the British Farming Awards but didn’t quite make it on to the shortlist this year. With at least four books in the ‘work in progress’ drawer, life doesn’t seem to have slowed down after 60 like they told me it would!  Anyway, onwards and upwards.

Flying Welshmen

 Having gone full circle we find ourselves back in Wales this morning, setting up camp at the Royal Welsh Show. It had been a number of years since I was last here but this place holds a lot of fond memories from past victories with livestock, for both myself and my father. I particularly remember 1992 when we won the interbreed competition in the sheep section and still have the rosettes to prove it. I can happily announce that our first venture into the Ryeland sheep breed, and my first time showing sheep for 18 years, has been highly successful thus far. We started out at the Royal Highland show in Edinburgh, picking off the female champion, reserve male champion and then overall breed champion with Beatrice, our gimmer, and a nice chunk of silverware for Mrs F to clean for a year. I am not sure the locals took it too well, but we eventually made our peace by proffering free alcohol to them all.

Unfortunately, from that event we both contracted Covid and were quarantined in isolation in the camper for a week. Our chosen destination a beach front in Arisaig on Scotland’s beautiful west coast, although sadly the weather was as miserable as we both felt. Eventually we rallied and even caught a view of the Flying Scotsman delivering hundreds of daily tourists into Malaig, who proceeded to empty the shelves in the local Co-op like a swarm of locusts. Shortbread, porridge oats, haggis and Jimmy-hats, in fact anything with a resemblance of tartan on the label all got piled into bulging carrier bags and got whisked off on the steamer at over-inflated prices to wherever all these badly dressed people shuffled home to. We also encountered hundreds of campervans driven by people who had about as much driving skills as my granny without her glasses. Bear in mind that the roads are rarely much wider than a garden path, swathes of the west coast became instant gridlock as numpies in their McMotorhome rentals had no idea where reverse gear was, let alone their mirrors. One does wonder whether the hire companies might at least instruct the drivers to do some basic manoeuvres before letting them lose on public roads.

Anyway, we made it back to the central belt in time to take a couple of sheep to Dunblane show, where we managed a reserve champion with Basinger (I didn’t name her) in the ‘any other breed’ class. This saw us pitched against a number of other types of sheep including Shetlands and Cheviots, along with Spotted Dutch Texels, so we were reasonably pleased that our Ryelands can at least hold their own in stranger company.

From there we headed to the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, and what a Great event it was, brilliantly organised with everything from the toilets to the weather. Once again Beatrice came up trumps, picking up more silverware and, along with our ram, Big Wee Eck, seven more rosettes to decorate the camper with. The week was quite arduous and the nigh-time shenanigans intense before we were released from the county to make the trip to our current spot. An overnight drive now finds us at the Welsh with the dream of the Triple Crown still intact. However, on unloading the sheep this morning, my heart sank when I saw the strength of the competition as we take on the big guns on their home turf. It is highly doubtful we will pull this one off but, as my old man used to say, ‘win or lose, we’ll have some booze.’

So here I sit, in the blazing sunshine, marginally concerned that the poor animals will fry in the heat-wave forecast over the next few days, before it’s their turn to perform in the ring one last time and possibly get their comeuppance. At least we have the shorts back on again and wheelbarrow load of beer on ice, as the whole of Wales arrives, one caravan at a time, speaking in tongues.

A couple more weeks are still to pass before we arrive back in France, via Scotland again, complete with wee Haggis, our new Border Terrier puppy whom we have yet to meet. I believe it has been quite hot there, although the French don’t make quite such a drama out of constant 40 degree heat as the British press do about an afternoon’s hazy sunshine. Factor 50, anyone?

Friday 17 June 2022

Hoggy vs Haggis

 

Greetings from the road, somewhere overlooking the sea. This, I think, is day 22 of a 68 day journey around UK. Our first stop, which seems like an age ago now, was at a wonderfully orchestrated wedding, on a small farm near Lincoln. There is probably no prouder moment in a father’s life than seeing his son marry a beautiful woman, and that he did. There was a slight wobble on our route over from France since I had surreptitiously stashed away quite a lot more that my allocated allowance of wine in the camper. Thankfully, a seductive smile from my wife dissuaded the genderless customs officer from pulling us over for a strip search, or the wedding could have been a much drier affair.  As we are essentially on the road to a sheep show we are also carrying a box of suspicious looking instruments required to pretty the animals up, when the time comes. These too thankfully remained undetected by Les Gendarmes. I mention the word ‘box’, better known as a Kist in Scotland, as I have proudly resurrected my father’s old one, complete with padded seat, aside which has been the location of many parties over his reign in the show-rings of old. As a further gesture, the box took pride of place in the wedding marquee displaying the words HS Frazier and Son, topped with beautiful flowers. A fitting tribute to the old bugger, I thought. Hopefully some more parties can be enjoyed on it soon. I would like to take this space to publicly congratulate Jack and Emma Frazier on their marriage.

We then moved on south and included a couple of nights in the New Forest where I caught up with my old pal Mark Turner, who used to live next door to the Rock Cross Inn. I say caught up, there was a lot of ground to cover through the forty years since we last spoke. We filled this in with a game of golf and then managed to get parked in the middle of a National Park in the village of Burley, where we were surrounded by deer, so friendly they would just about poke their head in through the camper door. I am not sure they were too impressed with the venison burgers we had for dinner, though.

A short hop saw us to the Isle of Wight in time to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and celebrate we did. Four days of partying included a whole day on a large motor boat, along with eight other even larger ones parked in a circle, where we could precariously step from one to another, drink in hand. Miraculously, none of us went in the drink, with our drink! Craig and Emma, our wonderful hosts, plied us with so much lobster and fizz that I am sure Her Majesty would have been suitably impressed.

From there our journey has taken us to South Wales, initially on to the fabulous Gower peninsula at Oxwich bay and then on to Amroth, a sleepy little village that I last visited when I was four years old. Somewhere there is a photo of a fat little me sitting on a beach eating an ice-cream in the rain. Nothing has changed apart from me being five feet taller now! Continuing along the coast we happened on an even more picturesque village called Little Haven and what a haven it was. Parked on a vantage point overlooking the St Bride’s Bay, we spent a pair of glorious days admiring the view from our window until one evening we were joined by a couple of strangers named Fred and Sheila, her hailing from Kidderminster and coincidentally being at school with my sister. It was an entertaining night to be sure, each of us regaling stories about our nomadic lives. As a competent badminton player, and Wendy and I both keen on table tennis, he introduced me to a new game called ‘Pickle Ball’. No, not something on a canapĂ© menu but a cross between the two above sports, sort of table tennis without the table, which sounds so much fun I think we might indulge when we get home. I had for the previous few months been ploughing through a crime novel by Peter May, a writer I usually enjoy. However this, one of his more recent ones, had got more and more bogged down with fine detail on just about every situation until it became unnecessarily tedious as he described each flower, bush, hill, car and person in more flowery detail that Rembrandt could have added. I can only guess that in his older age he has discovered the sauce. Couple that with a plot about as thin as Naomi Campbell and it ended up consuming a month of my life I will never get back. Having dragged myself to the end of it, thankfully I palmed it off on Fred who, after I had admitted I was an author, and despite me giving him my real name, was convinced I had written the thing under a pen name! I can just about hear him snoring still! Somehow or other, during the escapade we have managed to snap the door handle off on the inside of the camper, only to wake up and be unable to get out of the thing! I have fashioned a work-around for now but the new part has to be flown in from somewhere in Europe at great expense, which we might see by Autumn. Staff shortages, apparently!

      In the next day or so we will depart for the North, the apprehension rising as we approach our first sheep event with our three beasts. Although I have spent more time on my knees in the ring than Frank Bruno, it will be at least twenty years ago since I showed a sheep in anger. I will report on our progress in due course. Also, in due course, when we return south we will have gained an extra passenger in the shape of a small puppy. Yes, after talking about it for nearly two years we have finally gone and bought a Border Terrorist. Look out Pooper, your life is about to change when wee Haggis arrives! And you too, Hoggy!

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Tractor Domination

 At last we have some guests here at Chauffour, after what seems like an eternity. Yes, it does add more cooking and cleaning but the company of three of Wendy's best pals far outweighs that. And it seems they brought the sunshine with them all the way from Scotland and with temperatures now up to 30 degrees, we won’t be long before we start praying for rain again!

As often happens when the house is full of women, I am saddled with the inevitable punishment of being forced to watch Eurovision. I have to say, a bigger pile of pretentious trash I have rarely witnessed but thankfully I fell asleep before the announcement of the predicable Ukrainian winners. Small recompense for having your country invaded, I suppose, but every cloud, etc. Apologies for the spoiler if you haven’t watched it yet and were saving the recording for a quiet evening but look on the bright side, I have saved you a few hours of humiliation.

On that subject, I am slightly concerned about my passion for tractors which I occasionally look at on the internet with complete innocence. Seemingly that is no longer allowed in the governmental circles in case MPs get sidetracked into obscene pornography, so it won’t be long before it is banned altogether. Who would a thought a Class Dominator was anything other than a combine harvester? Preposterous! Oh well, if I stop liking tractors, does that make me an Extractor Fan? Groan!

I mentioned last month that we now have a ride-on lawnmower. Well, in a bid to squeeze into a father-of-the-groom wedding suit later this month, I have made a massive effort to lose some weight by cutting out the wine and cheese which, up until this weekend, has been working fine. A couple of games of golf per week is contributing to the exercise but I do miss walking behind the mower for hours at a time to get my steps in. But here’s the interesting thing, my Fitbit watch has been fooled into thinking that sitting on the mowing machine constitutes exercise. Result! I kid you not, after I finish an hour’s worth of laziness in the seat I get rewarded with the information that I have just walked to Bordeaux and back. Who makes these things?

Anyone who has been here to Chauffour will tell you that we have a great view from our back terrace of a dilapidated ancient barn and windmill on the near horizon. Well, we did do until a few months ago when someone came along and knocked the barn down. For the next weeks our peace was shattered by heavy machinery digging and moving earth, then followed by a constant trail of concrete lorries. Lord knows what they are building up there but by the size of it methinks a large family will be moving in by the end of the summer to overlook the privacy of our swimming pool. Maybe they will fill the spare rooms with Ukrainian refugees. Ha, we could all have a sing-along to Go-SHUM!

Countdown is now on until we head off on our UK travels, with the first stop on British soil to get a new MOT on the camper. So, in true mechanical fashion, the damn thing has broken down. Well, not exactly broken but it is sending me a warning that something isn’t right and that in turn will fail its test. A light on the dashboard suggests my Air Bag isn’t working properly. She was fine last time I looked, washing the dishes in the kitchen!

And run...

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!