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Long hot summer

Currently enjoying the long and lazy days of summer. A life lived more outdoors than in, seeking respite in the shade from the fierce heat in the middle of the day, and basking in the balmy warmth of summer evenings spent with friends, a BBQ and plenty of local wine.

The sheep were sheared in early June, before the heat really took hold. Clearing up afterwards the following day, Eddie made a surprising discovery in the barn – a forkful of straw destined for the wheelbarrow turned out to be a forkful of baby hedgehogs. Mum was close by, and didn’t seem put out by the disturbance.

The hay is made and safely gathered in. A fantastic crop this year due to a wet early spring and then warmth and sun which led to the grass growing much quicker – and thicker – than last year. Eddie can manage most of the hay making process himself, but help is needed to get the bales off the field. This is something that needs to be done as soon as the hay has been baled. Unlike the large round bales which can be safely left out in the fields, the small bales we make must be kept dry, so it is always an anxious race between us and the inevitable storm which always seems to follow a period of hot dry weather. Luckily we have good friends who always turn out to help, and an ingenious machine called an “autochargeur” which picks the bales up off the field, sends them round its helter-skelter like innards, and then spits them out back at the barn.


My parents were with us last week, giving us an opportunity for some days out. A summer would not be complete without at least one trip to the Pyrenees: every time we drive the roads which take us up into the mountains I feel my heart lift, and we have been lucky enough this year to go twice in a week.

Our first trip, with my parents, was to the Cirque de Gavarnie, a UNESCO World heritage site. The pathway from the village to the Cirque is a reasonably gentle stroll, even on a scorching day, and there is always the option to cool off hot feet in the icy stream which runs alongside the path.



Our second trip, with our walking group, was to the Cirque de Troumouse. A much higher, more arduous walk but so worth the effort for the most spectacular views. In spite of the intermittent cloud, and the fact that the altitude made it seem a lot cooler than at Gavarnie, the sun is fierce at that height and we all came back with sun kissed / burned faces!







A great day was had by all!

Knitting


It’s been a long time since I knitted anything bigger than a sock. Although I’ve pretty much always had something on the needles over the last 3 years, numerous larger projects have been begun, only to be abandoned. For some reason, since our move, I have found it difficult to build knitting into my life in the way that it was back in the UK.

Recently though, something seems to have clicked, and I have knit two cardigans in quick succession. First up was Liesl (Ravelry link), knit in Rowan Summer Tweed.

I like the results of this yarn, but can’t say I enjoy knitting with it. This was a quick knit though, so was finished before it could drive me completely round the bend.

My next project, Kaleidoscope, was much more fun.

To be honest, I wasn’t that struck by the example in the pattern, its main attraction for me being that it was knit without any seaming being required – I’ve been knitting for long enough to know that finishing a garment knit in pieces is not my forte – but this is where I think Ravelry comes into its own. Being able to see what other knitters have done – the yarns they used, the modifications they made, is invaluable for a knitter like me who can lack vision at times!

I did wonder if I could stay engaged long enough to knit a large garment in sock yarn, but in fact this knit up incredibly quickly. I used Araucania Ranco Multi, which was lovely to knit with. I used pretty much every yard of the two skeins I bought as I made a couple of modifications to the pattern with help from the projects on Ravelry. I made the sleeves full length, and carried on decreasing at the neck to make it less of an “off the shoulder number”. If I knit it again (and I think I might), I would make even more decreases. It sits nicely but is still a little wide for my liking. I also knit a garter stitch ridge on both sides while knitting the body rather than knitting a button band separately at the end. I didn’t bother making any buttonholes as I wasn’t sure how many buttons I wanted until it was done and blocked, and it is easy enough for the buttons to fasten without.

I count both of these projects as wearable successes. I’m now just contemplating sewing the button band down on Kaleidoscope so that it functions as a sweater while looking like a cardigan as I’m not sure about the small bulges along the button band – these may get on my nerves.

I seem to have hit a cardigan obsession as I currently have two more on the needles – Peasy and the Tea leaves cardigan. I have a horrible feeling I am going to run out of yarn for Peasy, though so watch this space….

Last year we made a deal with our mayor, Gerard, who has a smallholding in the village. He wanted to buy two of our Jacob lambs and we wanted to buy some of the ornamental waterfowl he breeds, so we agreed to do a swap. He took his lambs in June, and in early August turned up with several intriguing boxes. We didn’t want to enclose the lake so he had chosen breeds for us which like to spend most of their time on the water, and don’t tend to wander. None of them can fly, having had their wings clipped soon after birth.

So, a small group of ten ducks and geese joined the menagerie.

I don’t know what breeds they all are, but we love having them and they have settled in very well in their new home.

It has to be said that ornamental waterfowl are not big in this part of France. Ducks on the other hand….. Gascony is the home of “magret de canard” and of course the notorious foie gras, which is made from duck livers as well as from goose liver. It’s not a particularly pleasant process and having eaten it, I can’t say I liked it but it’s part of the local culture and considered a huge delicacy. Our next door neighbours farm about 230 hectares which includes a vineyard, various crops, a milking herd of cows, and ducks. They buy in the ducklings (which are all infertile males) at a very young age and raise them until they are old enough for the “gavage” – the process by which they are force fed corn to enlarge the livers. At this point they get sold on and a lorry arrives to transport them to their final destination.

One Sunday morning last November I was about to drive up to the village to get the bread and paper when I noticed a strange object on the wooden platform which juts out over the lake. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a small young duckling. He was lying flat out on the platform, clearly absolutely exhausted. He still had much of his downy feathering, and was absolutely filthy. We decided that somehow he must have escaped when the lorry came to transport the latest batch off for the gavage. Given that the distance from the duck housing to us is well over a quarter of a mile, it was no wonder the poor little chap was exhausted. We let him rest for a while, but he was soon keen to make his way down to the water. Tentatively, he tottered down to the water’s edge, paused for a while and then launched himself into the water. And promptly sank. His feathers were devoid of the natural oils that would normally keep him buoyant.

The other ducks were very curious and we wondered how they would react to him but we needn’t have worried. They accepted him into their little flock without any problems and over the following weeks he blossomed. He regained the oils he needed to be able to swim; he lost the last of his baby down feathers, and emerged a very handsome chap. He also GREW, and now dwarfs all but the pair of geese.

How did he find his way to us? We don’t know, but have heard that ducks can smell water. What a frightening and hard journey for such a little mite, but we are so glad he found us. Saved from the destiny of becoming an overpriced, overrated delicacy, we hope that instead he will have a long and happy life with us. We think he’s earned it.

Friday afternoons

When I was growing up back in the 1970s I was one of those pony-mad little girls. I remember entering every “Win a pony” competition I could in the various pony related magazines I devoured (what were the publishers thinking running competitions like that???), and I’m pretty sure I drove my parents mad with my constant begging and pleading for them to buy me a pony. My poor parents, who were both brought up in the backs streets of Liverpool during WW2, and had never had a pet of any kind (or wanted one), must have wondered what rogue gene had spawned an animal-mad daughter like me (horses were my first love, but basically anything with four legs was a hit). They did try, in their own way, to let me interact with horses without actually having to buy me one, but with little success. A family trip to the New Forest, meant to be a special treat for me, was a complete disaster as the sight of so many ponies, none of which I could take home with me, was too much for my 7 year old brain to take in, and I cried the entire time we were there, and most of the way home.

I must have eventually worn them down because when I was nine I got a pony. Several wonderful years of gymkhanas and pony club later, school work and boys inevitably took over and we sold my pony. It seemed that my horseriding days were over.

Until we moved to France. When we made the decision to move here, one of the things on my wish list was to ride again. I didn’t want to actually own a horse as I know I don’t have the time needed to care for one and exercise it often enough, but hoped I’d find a way. We had the great good luck to have stayed with Fran when we were house hunting, and have ended up living only about 5 minutes away. She has two horses and was happy for me to ride with her.

I don’t get to ride as often as I would like as both Fran & I lead busy lives, but every so often, I play hooky on a Friday afternoon and we spend a lovely couple of hours meandering along the pathways and tracks that snake across the surrounding farmland.

I get to ride Pretzel

- a true gentleman. Perfect for the nervous 40-something who hadn’t ridden in over 25 years. It was quite scary the first few times, but my confidence has gradually built up and I’m once again experiencing that thrill of galloping flat out across an expanse of green, that moment when you and the horse are of one mind – “Isn’t this just the BEST fun!”

Welcome

So, here we are at my new (blogging) home.  I hope to update this blog much more regularly than before, and now I no longer feel constrained by the name of the old blog, that should be easier to do.

I see I last posted on the old blog in November 2008 – is it really that long ago??  Well, that was slap bang in the middle of the “global economic crisis”, the effects of which we’re all still living with.

Life continues its gentle rhythm here in the sleepy Gers; nevertheless there have been some highlights and lowlights along the way.  I’m fairly sure I’ll be sending this post out into pretty much total silence as I’m sure most of the (few) people who used to read my blog will have given up on me by now.  Never mind, here’s a quick recap of the last 15 months anyway.

At the end of January last year we were caught in the path of Hurricane Klaus.  Knowing it was on its way, and being perched on top of a hill we expected the worst, but got off extremely lightly.  We lost the marquee some of the goats were living in, and a few tiles off the roof, but compared to the scene of destruction for miles around it could have been so much worse.  We were without electricity for 5 days and without water for 3.  We found it easy enough to cope without electricity, but not having water was not a good experience, and I’m very glad it didn’t go on for any longer.  We knew that the longer the power was out the greater the chance of losing the water (the huge water towers which supply water to the region need electricity in order to function), and we were able to stockpile some bottled water, and fill every receptacle we had with tap water, but providing water for the animals was more problematic.  We were almost at the point of having to take water from our small lake, but thankfully this wasn’t necessary.

In April my dearly beloved Granny died.  She was 15 and one of the original nine does we bought in 2001.  She was the matriarch of the flock, keeping everyone in order, and loved looking after the little ones.  She knew every goat that was descended from her, and would always let any kids related to her suckle from her (before she retired and stopped having kids) – something which is practically unheard of.  She was in pretty fine fettle right up to her last day, and died peacefully in my arms.

We lost Cosmo in June.  His back legs got worse and worse until he really wasn’t able to get about much at all and had to be picked up and helped along.  We had to make that decision every dog owner dreads.  When the vet arrived both Eddie and I were sobbing our hearts out – I bet he thought we were such sentimental English softies!  We buried him next to the lake on the spot where he loved to lie and survey his kingdom.  We still miss him terribly.  Unfortunately Ben, who is now 12, seems to be going the same way, with his back legs getting weaker….

Our village fete took place at the end of July together with the biennial Son et Lumiere. (Links to Beaumarches website & lots of photos of the S&L. Check out our mayor as James Brown, and how many times can you spot me and Eddie in the photos?)   Work on that started in March 2008.  Eddie and I were in charge of the technical team – Eddie on lighting design / production management and me as the stage manager.  The final two weeks in the run up to the performance (one night only!) were manic and we barely saw home except when we were coming back to feed the animals.  Thankfully it was alright on the night and a great time was had by all.  We got to know loads of new people in the village and made some good friends.

The first meeting for the working committee to start preparations for July 2011 is on the 5th March…

We had an absolutely fantastic summer.  Practically wall to wall sunshine from April until the end of October.  We made hay in temperatures of 40C: not so much fun picking up 1,000 bales off the fields then unloading them into the barn, but at least we got plenty to see us through the winter and it is really good quality.  We had help from friends but I’m not sure they will volunteer again this year!

In October we sold the goats.  It was a sad day, and a hard decision to make, but one we had been pondering all year.  Our problem has been that we don’t produce a huge amount of mohair and we couldn’t find anywhere to get it processed.  There don’t seem to be any small mills here that will process modest amounts of fibre, as there are in the UK.  Maintaining a flock of 50 goats is expensive if you get nothing back from them and much as we loved them, they were never meant to be pets.  Our decision was also influenced by the fact that the Jacob sheep have proved to be a massive hit.  The French love them and we could have sold last year’s lambs to French smallholders 3 times over.  We’re also building up a local market for the meat.  From an economic viewpoint, there was no argument.  We don’t have a vast amount of land, or money, so concentrating on the sheep and increasing the breeding flock, albeit at the loss of the goats, was just the obvious solution.  The very positive outcome was that the entire flock (bar a couple of the oldies and 5 castrated male kids born last year which we kept) was sold together.  They were bought by an English family near Bordeaux who have a varied collection of fibre animals – they are looking at buying their own small scale machinery to process their own fibre, and the daughter of the family spins and knits as well.  A lovely family and an ideal home for the flock.  It’s such a relief to know that they have all stayed together and have gone to such a good home.

Work wise, things are going well.  Working in finance I got to see the effects of the credit crunch up close and personal, as it were, although I’m pleased to say that not being a mainstream kind of investment business we’ve emerged unscathed, and have spent the last year taking on new clients.  When we get to our year end at the end of next month it will have turned out to be our best year ever.  Must be doing something right. I have recently been able to cut down my visits to the UK so that instead of two weeks here, one week there I’m now doing three (or four) weeks here, one week there.  Much better!

Amazingly, there has been knitting too!  After probably 18 months of barely picking up the needles since we moved here, I have gradually been knitting more.  I managed to complete a Green Gable (Ravelry link) last summer and got plenty of wear out of it.  Scarves were knit as Christmas presents, and my current obsession is socks.  I’ve discovered that these are ideal for me at the moment – small, relatively quick to knit, and there are lots of interesting patterns and beautiful yarn out there.  Pics to follow of some of the FOs.

That’s the lot, I think.  We’re all up to date.  Are we still happy here?  You bet.  Roots well and truly planted.

Finally, I’ll leave you with some photos of our latest arrivals born over the last couple of weeks.

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