Archive for the ‘Life in Gascony’ Category

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.


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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!”

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