Tuesday, 30 June 2009

I've been demoted

Last evening, I went to the bottom of the garden to enjoy the evening sunshine. I may have fallen asleep. How do you know if you've fallen asleep when you don't have a watch, you didn't plot the sun when you sat down and it's still shining on you when you next notice it?

Anyway, having wakened (if I was asleep), I noticed that the chickens were at the top of the garden on the path, so I went up to make sure they didn't go into the lettuce.

As I got onto the path the chickens started running towards me. At first, I thought they'd just missed me - the Big Chicken who Knows Where the Food Is. However, having reached about Mach 2, the lead chicken launched herself at me about chest height - my chest, not hers. She was clearly not coming for a cuddle. A nifty sidestep on my part avoided a collision. I was slightly taken aback, and only recovered my senses in time to see incoming Exochick number two heading my way at a slightly lower altitude. I was now stunned. Charlemagne, the cockerel, whose status in the flock is now obviously only slightly higher than mine, had clearly not been consulted about this attempted coup, as he was running around squawking - although maybe he was the planned diversion while they prepared for the second assault, but it never came. They obviously chickened out.

What was it about? What had I done?

Maybe I'll starve them for two days. That'll show them. In the meantime, I've called for an inquiry as to who hatched this plot.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

I am a chicken

Occasionally, the chickens are let out into the garden, but always under strict supervision. They immediately head for the sorrel, which they adore and we haven't yet found a use for, although I'm told it makes good soup. For the moment they are welcome to it. Unfortunately, they also like lettuce.

Yesterday, I mowed one of the wild flower beds. I escorted the chickens to the site, thinking they'd clean up the fallen seed heads and generally tidy the place, and I went to the bottom of the garden to enjoy the evening sunshine. In a matter of moments, I had 2 chickens and a cockerel around my feet. Given the size of the garden and what I thought would be obvious attractions to a chicken, I was somewhat taken aback by their attachment to me. I can only assume that they think I am the big chicken, who knows where the food is.

On the other hand, maybe I am a chicken.

Saturday, 27 June 2009


Coming home as evening was drawing in, we spotted a coypu in a field. On closer inspection, it was a mother (presumably) and 7 babies or whatever coypu young are called. She watched us warily and then they all scampered off into the grass at the side of a river. I crept closer to see if I could get another siting and watched the mother floating in the water as the young played on the water's edge on the other bank. Quite charming, although that's not how they are regarded amongst the farmers locally. They burrow into river banks and eat the crops. Given that the adults are about the size of a terrier, they do probably eat a lot.

The attached is from a local web site:-

Ragondin ("coypu") : semiaquatic herbivorous rodent from South-America; it can weigh several kilos. The coypu was bred for its fur. In Europe, the wild coypus come from animals escaped from farms. The coypu is officially declared vermin since 1988 : eaten into by the galleries, the river banks collapse, the trees are uprooted; the flukes proliferate; the crops are devastated (young corn plants cut at the base to be eaten). The coypu is also called "the hare of the marshes"; it is said that its meat makes excellent pâtés

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Whip snake

John caught this 'little' chap outside the Mairie, which is across the road from the house.  It bit him only slightly.  He was put in one of the fish tanks John keeps for such occasions.

He is a baby western whip snake.  He is about 30cms long.  They can grow to around 2 metres long.  For information about beasties in France and elsewhere, go to John's Suite 101 site.





The snake was released into the garden and disappeared in only a moment.  His body is a dull brown colour, so he blends well into the foliage.  His head has beautiful markings.

Let's hope by the time he is any bigger, he has moved on.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Starting a family

In the wisteria at the end of the garden in front of the house, a couple of goldfinches have set up residence.  The nest is a small tight cup, which sits on a branch.  It's lovely thing.

The female has obviously laid her eggs, and she is now sitting tight.  The male visits and takes up station on a branch.  He seems to be guarding her.  Maybe he thinks he has done his bit, and he's just at a loose end.

The nest is so well camoflaged that I had to wait for a bit of a breeze to lift the leaves, so that I could see her.

Incubation is 12/13 days, and the young stay in the nest for another 14 days, fed by both parents.  So Dad's obviously just out with the lads until he's next on duty.  John will have to keep me up to date on their progress after Sunday next.

Charlemagne et ses femmes

We went to Ste Foy la Grande market yesterday morning and chose our chickens.

The stall, well - lorry, which sells poultry does a roaring trade in chickens, ducks, turkeys and guinea fowl.

We then installed Charlemagne and his ladies in the temporary chicken run.  They will be let into the main run, once they get used to the place.  They seem quite happy - they are eating and drinking.  Charlemagne crows beautifully, and does to the hens what cockerels are supposed to do.

Friday, 8 May 2009

French garden politics

John and I have been wondering how we might arrange to get the top corner of the garden from Mamie.  I need to put this in context ( Geeb, just go to sleep):-

John acquired the garden, by means which are too convoluted to relate, from la Mamie. Yes, the same  personage, which I beat at petanque.  If I can work the magic, a photo may appear later.

Although John has the garden, Mamie still had proprietorial rights over it - until today, that is.

I went to the garden this afternoon and met Patricia, Mamie's grand-daughter.   She asked if we had a strimmer - of course she knows we have a strimmer!  Everyone in the world that is Villeneuve knows we have a strimmer.  She asked if we might 'tidy up' the top corner, which used to be the chicken run, as La Mamie wasn't up to it any more.  I said, of course we could do that.  John arrived and I said, of course, he would like a couple of chickens, perhaps they could go in  there.   I'll ask La Mamie, Patricia said..............

An hour later, I had strimmed the patch and John and I were working on creating a chicken run.  It may not be palatial, but the chickens will be happy and safe there.  The cost?    4 hours of effort and plenty of negotiating, or rather sensitivity.   La Mamie and her husband worked the plot for many years, in order to feed their family.  It has sentimental attachment - it is what for years has defined her.  The garden was her husband's passion.

For her the cost in giving it up was huge.  For us, it will cost the space for 4 tomato plants, 4 strawberry plants and a few raspberries, which she will have as her own.  Sounds like an unequal deal to me.

Life is a bitch, and then you die.

This is La Mamie with John and Patricia in the background.  Don't be fooled by her frail appearance, she is a fierce petanque player.  No quarter given or expected.  Tomorrow, I hope to beat at least a 70 year old.

Our efforts at constructing a chicken run drew some attention.  Villeneuve is, after all, a small place.

The lady on the left, neither of us had met her before, said that John needed 'un petit coq'.  Perhaps it loses something in the translation, but I said to John, in English, that I understood he already had one.   French country life is like that - doubles ententres abound.  I just wish I understood them all.

Anyway, the chicken run is ready.

We had debated the question of 'un coq', but had dismissed it on the basis that it would be too near the mayor's house.  However, because it is rural France and nothing escapes the mayor, he found out that we were constructing a chicken run.   'Of course, you must have a coq', he said.  'It is the sound of the country'.  When the mayor makes a suggestion, it is really an instruction.  Robert, the mayor, is on the left of this photo.

Tomorrow, we will go to the market at Ste Foy la Grande and buy some chickens and un coq.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Not a Matter of Life and Death

Petanque is played in Villeneuve de Duras on a Saturday.  People, mostly men, come from around the area.  You pay €1 per game and you are given a number.  A draw takes place, and your partner for the game is selected that way.  The draw also decides who you will play against.

Saturday was my first day in Villeneuve on this trip and I'd had no time to prepare, apart from giving my boules a quick rub-down with a bit of sandpaper.

The day was one of highs and lows.  The low was that on game 4, I was fannied.  The game is played to 13 points - the first team to get to 13 wins the game.  A fanny is when one pair beats the other by 13 points to 0.  So that was the low - and a first.  I have never been fannied before.

The high, and much more significant, was that I beat my arch-rival for the first time since I've been coming here - probably 15 years or so.

The fact that she is 86 years of age has nothing to do with it.  La Mamie, as she is known, is a fearsome player.  She uses little effort but always seems to get close to the cochonet.  Anyway, on Saturday I beat her.

As I said, petanque is not a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that.

Once I've worked out how to do this bloggy stuff, I'll post a photograph.