Archive for the ‘French barn’ Category

Some Things I Forgot to Bring on Holiday

August 3, 2016

– at the Barn in Central France

  • a hairbrush
  • antihistamine tablets
  • my Epi-pen
  • insect repellent
  • moisturiser and hand cream
  • stickers for the car headlights
  • my little French dictionary
  • those two DVDs from the rental company, left at home on top of the telly

Some of these matter more than others.  There was a wasp in the kitchen just now, for example, which did make me think of the epipen.  Then again, I’ve bought some remarkably expensive antihistamines at the Pharmacie – so expensive, and so strong, I hardly care to use them.  Which proves I never needed them in the first place.

Gary, my kind NHS counsellor, says I put myself down too much, so here are:

Some Things I’m Glad I Remembered to Bring

  • binoculars
  • swimsuits
  • cash
  • courage
  • better command of spoken French than in previous years
  • chargers for the laptop and the mobile (yes – sometimes people forget those!)
  • enough pairs of shoes – in my case four, not counting flipflops which are already here.
  • last week’s Saturday Guardian (23rd July).  (Unbeatable articles by Hadley Freeman and Tim Thingummy)
  • my dog, Bandit (never at risk, actually, as he knows when I’m packing)

Now I’ve thought of Another Category

Things I’m Glad that Others Brought

  • last week’s New Statesman (brought by Michael).  I think I’ll start taking the NS regularly.
  • themselves – Mike, Anna, Holly and Raf
  • the game of Botticelli – haven’t played it in years, and never so well as the other evening

 

le chézeau in June

June 26, 2014

The buzzards can be heard everywhere around here – up by the sun all through daytime and on into the long evenings.  I’ve been trying to think of ways of describing their call.  ‘Call’ is a good word, for a start, because they do sound a little like a person calling out in distress – a sharp onset and then a fade.  So is ‘cry’.  The trouble with ‘call’ and ‘cry’ is that they are  too generic: so many creatures a said to have a ‘call’ or a ‘cry’, but that is not intended to describe the sound they make.  The words for it matter, because  recordings don’t quite capture the experience of hearing a buzzard calling high up in the air. Don’t go and listen to the RSPB website recording: it’s a travesty. Their pictures are good, though.  I don’t see normally see real buzzards anything like this close – first you hear them, and then you look for a dark dot far up in the sky, vanishing from sight each time it turns.

From the RSPB

From the RSPB

 

The buzzard’s call has an echoing quality, almost a wail – I suppose it is functioning as some kind of sonar or a locating system.  Certainly it carries a long way, and a pair of buzzards will call and respond to each other, as they wheel across distances,  in a kind of sky-y antiphon.

The call has been compared to cats’ mewing, but it is closer to their yowling in the night.  I think it is more ethereal than either of those.  Purer and more carrying, because less harsh, and clearer because it lacks the intimate antagonism of a cat standoff.  Buzzards call for the distances, not for the close range.

In the end, the closest comparison I can offer you is the siren that the pedalo hire people sound to call a boat in when its half hour is up.  Reality is often disappointing – I would much rather find a resemblance to something less ordinary.  To the buzzard, too, its call must be mundane, functional.  It is only in my mind’s ear that they are creatures of wonder.

 

French Barn – the new stairs and the pear tree

November 8, 2013

These are the same pictures of the stairs that I have put on facebook – the wood is oak, and it will soon feel very much at home I’m sure.

they arrived early - much of the staircase pre-assembled

they arrived early – much of the staircase pre-assembled

the newel post - plain and elegant

the newel post – plain and elegant

the stairs had to fit into the space between the back door and the wide doors to the mangeoir - hence a quarter turn both top and bottom

the stairs had to fit into the space between the back door and the wide doors to the mangeoir – hence a quarter turn both top and bottom

view from above - a turn, and the curved handrail

view from above – a turn, and the curved handrail

the fine balustrade - surprisingly expensive, by the metre

the fine balustrade – surprisingly expensive, by the metre

the turn at the bottom, viwed through the archway

the turn at the bottom, viwed through the archway

a curve is 'plus joli'

a curve is ‘plus joli’

all in context.

all in context

After the stairs, the amazing Nick Jackson came and took down the pear tree.  It turned out to be rotting at the base and likely to fall fairly soon, so it was just as well he did.  Furthermore, it knocked slates off the roof, and attracted wasps, while failing to produce edible pears.  But it also looked rather pretty, and it is a bit of a tug to see it go.  Excellent firewood, though.  And the tree feller plans to get some planks from it for cabinet making.

You can see what a lovely tree it was.

You can see what a lovely tree it was.

He does all the work by climbing the tree.

He does all the work by climbing the tree.

the last of the bushy bits

the last of the bushy bits

a closer view

a closer view

all the small bits are off - just big branches to go

all the small bits are off – just big branches to go

this stuff should make a nice kitchen

this stuff should make a nice kitchen cupboard

down to  the stump

down to the stump

scene for 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'

scene for ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’

firewood?  Needs to season first.

firewood? Needs to season first.

the stump turned out to be rotten

the stump turned out to be rotten

Silences

September 25, 2013

Saturday morning and the air has stilled.  September sunshine brushes the market square and the warm stone houses in the hilly village of Ste Sévère.  No movement in the little streets, except for mine – and I a stranger.  In the Post Office – nearly midday, nearly closing time – I am the only customer.  A peaceful woman weighs the card I want to send – it rests, light on the scales, while she tickles my cheeky dog.  Those huge ears.  The local bar is sleek with the smell of leeks cooking. I drink excellent coffee alone, and chat quietly with the chef about black pepper and circuses, and leek fondue.  (Did he really mean ‘leek fondue’?)

 The ancient square is still empty, but the church bell strikes its rich tone, calm and precise.  It hardly resonates in the dry air, so limpid, and for once I don’t bother to count the strokes.  I slide the car gently out of town.

 Not a soul in the fields – no sound of machinery, no movement of beasts or men.  The great black and white donkeys stand at angles, close together but detached.  Wheat stubble rests; sunflowers and maize are drying – so slowly – imperceptibly small changes darken the grains a fraction more.  Across an empty field, the brook’s rush-rustling tumble runs below the silence.  For a few steps my boots crunch gently across a sprinkle of last year’s acorns.  Some small cautious creature briefly disturbs the dry grasses by the path; a tiny grasshopper lands on a papery dead leaf with the lightest of sounds: flick.  A pale, grey-brown sound.  Down the hill, across the little iron and concrete bridge and past silent well-kempt farmsteads, the dogs romp and I walk quietly, into the shade of the woods on our left.  On the other side, expanses of tall-growing flowering balsam run wild, all the way down damp margins to the stream. 

———————————————————————————–

They say a blog is better with pictures – I’m not sure that I want to chop this one up. 

Here it is again with pictures – tell me what you think!

Silences

Saturday morning and the air has stilled.  September sunshine brushes the market square and the warm stone houses in the hilly village of Ste Sévère.  No movement in the little streets, except for mine – and I a stranger.

empty streets

empty streets

In the Post Office – nearly midday – I am the only customer.

The Post Office - ring to be admitted.

The Post Office – ring to be admitted.

A peaceful woman weighs the card I want to send – it rests, light on the scales, while she tickles my cheeky dog.  Those huge ears.  In the local bar (the Relais du Facteur), sleek with the smell of leeks cooking I drink excellent coffee alone, and chat quietly with the chef about black pepper and circuses, and leek fondue.  (Did he really mean ‘leek fondue’?)

no-one needed behind the bar

no-one needed behind the bar

The ancient square is still empty, but the church bell strikes its rich tone, calm and precise.

Across rooftops, the bell tower of the church.

Across rooftops, the bell tower of the church.

It hardly resonates in the dry air.  For once I don’t bother to count the strokes.  I slide the car gently out of town.

I slide out of town

I slide out of town

Not a soul in the fields – no sound of machinery, no movement of beasts or men.  The great black and white donkeys stand at angles, close together but detached.  Wheat stubble rests; sunflowers and maize are drying – so slowly – imperceptibly small, molecular movement.

maize drying on the cob

maize drying on the cob

Across an empty field, the brook’s rush-rustling tumble runs below the silence.

stream bubbling in the distance

stream bubbling in the distance

For a few steps my boots crunch gently across a sprinkle of last year’s acorns;

acorns scatter, shatter on the path

acorns scatter, shatter on the path

something disturbs the dry grasses by the path; a tiny grasshopper lands on a leaf with the lightest of sounds: flick.  A pale, grey-brown sound.

a grasshopper, still and undetectable on the dried grass

a grasshopper, still and undetectable on the dried grass

Down the hill, across the little iron and concrete bridge

concrete and iron

concrete and iron

and past silent well-kempt farmsteads,

well kept farmsteads: the Moulin Gras

well kept farmsteads: the Moulin Gras

the dogs romp and I walk quietly, into the shade of the woods on one side;

DSCF1293

on the other, expanses of tall-growing flowering balsam run wild, all the way down damp margins to the stream.

flowering balsam on the field running down to the stream

flowering balsam on the field running down to the stream

more about the dogs

July 29, 2013

Thank you everyone for your kind advice and thoughts about Shadow’s ‘bowl rage’, especially to Rosey of Rosmarinus, over in Norfolk, the ever-helpful owner of Shadow’s sire.  Rosey uses a diet for her dogs involving bones and raw meat, which I find a little difficult to manage, even though I agree with her about its advantages.  But I had indeed been falling behind on getting bones in for my dogs.

Yum yum - raw meaty bones.  Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?

Yum yum – raw meaty bones. Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?

 

The issue of dominance or hierarchy still seemed relevant, as well.  There is one truly useful website (amongst quite a lot of dross) –  which talks about dominance amongst dogs and how we humans interact with it.  We often inadvertently send our dogs mixed messages about their status, and as a dog ages her status may change – but not necessarily.

 

Like all of us, Bella was young once.

Like all of us, Bella was young once.

 

Based on both of these bits of advice, we have started to boost Shadow’s nutrition and we have also decided to pay a little more attention to Bella, to enhance her status in the pack.  We thought we might take care to feed the dogs with our laid-back lad, Bandit, in between the two females, as a kind of buffer zone.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.

 

Lo and behold, on that very first morning, even before we had put any of this into practice, the dogs seemed strikingly happier and calmer.  And that has continued today, as we have put these changes in place.

 

Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them.  Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?

Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them. Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?

 

Now, I don’t believe in canine mind-reading or anything like that, but I can’t help wondering what made the difference to them.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Here I am in a quandary – it only looks like a stream.  The dogs understand what is going on, while I am just grinning at the camera.  Heigh ho!

 

Trouble amongst the dogs

July 27, 2013

It is just after ten o’clock at night and there is still some light in the sky.  Behind the roiling mixed greys of the storm clouds some pink lingers from the sunset, and a few patches of sky show pale blue.  Down here on the earth there is still enough light to see by, but it is fading quickly to black.  None of this delicacy could possibly be caught by a camera – and even words are barely adequate.

The dogs are out with me – calm and friendly as usual – with no sign of the row they had earlier this evening.

I am worrying about my dogs – the young female has taken to being aggressive with the older female, who just happens to be her mother.  That relationship means nothing to them of course, though it’s very tempting to try to anthropomorphise it.  The growling and general dissent is mainly focused on food, so we have decided to feed them separately, hoping that that will sort things out.  But I think that the food-attacks are just a symptom of some wider competition.  They don’t always live together – but it’s often enough that they need to get on with each other.

very fine dogs - June

The original hierarchy: Bella front right; our calmly submissive boy, Bandit in the middle; Shadow at the back, ears pricked, getting ready to make a bid for power (?)

I’ve been reading around online.  The problem could be that Shadow is growing up (now 18 months old) and is trying to re-structure the hierarchy, especially as Bella is getting a bit more elderly.  Maybe the fact that Bella has been spayed about a year ago, while Shadow is intact, could be giving Shadow the edge.  Anyhow, all is fine except when they are fed their dinner – and Shadow rushes fiercely at Bella, behaving as if she thinks Bella needs to be driven off.  All the advice says that we should let them sort it out – and perhaps Shadow will end up as the dominant dog.  Bella is very tough, though, and I suspect she will put up a battle. This might not be pretty – or fun for anyone.

trees at the barn growing up

May 27, 2013

A while ago, in 2009, I blogged about the trees at our barn in the Berry.  Here are three of them in 2013.

 Cedar of Lebanon

Cedar of Lebanon

The cedar was one of the first trees we planted, back in 2001.  She has had some adventures – first she was seriously chewed by deer (Andrew put protective chicken wire around all the young trees after that).  Then she had to be moved to allow a drainage ditch to be dug around the perimeter – we weren’t even sure she would survive that one.  In fact the tree hardly seemed to notice the move at all.

the Larch

the Larch

Another of the 2001 planting.  This one suffered much more from the deer, and the trunk you see here was in fact just a small branch to begin with.  The original trunk died off completely.  Apart from that, every year has seen progress.

Red Oak

Red Oak

This one has only been in the ground here for a couple of years – planted maybe 2009?  It started slowly.  The leaves turn a beautiful red-brown in Autumn.  Ironically, back home in Leamington the red oaks are being systematically removed from the local park (the Leam Valley Local Nature Reserve) because they are non-natives.  It seems a little late – and incoherent – to be pulling up the drawbridge now.

April 5th and February 24th 2010

March 1, 2013

 Left over from 2010 – a fragment

I gave up the project of trying to catch up with the Australia trip, and now I think I will interweave that transcribing project with diarising where and how I am right now (or at least those few minutes ago when I was out with the dogs) so this is becoming a kind of palimpsest.

Total transformation.  Sunny, warm and still today – just what the Berry should be about.  (yes – I know – it’s also about the deep winters and the veillées that we know from Célestine – which sound like great fun, but also point up how appallingly awful those winters must have been back in the nineteenth century).  But today feels like less effort – truly Spring.

April 2010

April 2010

And the ordinary seems extraordinary: here and there, peacock butterflies have freshly emerged, two large crows rise up glossy out of a huge old chestnut tree, banking and turning into the wood; a huge buzzard, glowing russet in the sunshine, wheels slowly through the mid-point of the sky.  I think of the crow skeleton and two feathers that lie by our vegetable patch.  I like it that it’s there – would it be gruesome to take a photo? Should I care if it is? The three ponies are in their field, keen for the carrots we have brought them (we: that is, the two dogs and me).  Bella as always tries to warn me of the great danger I am in near horses, by clustering close. Bandit is cool with it, waiting patiently for the walk to go forward.

21-04-10 Bandit

Later he stands stock still and looks with great attention across the field : three deer are crossing the winter wheat. We can see them as they move across the fields, almost invisible on the ploughed land except for the white tail-scuts, then they skirt the tiny village of le chézeau, and move carefully across a little track.  Two young fallow deer and their mother.

the combat of Genest

October 20, 2010

The little village of Le Chézeau has about twelve inhabited houses (counting that of the couple from Toulon, who are sometimes here, and ourselves, who are here for some part of the summer).  There are some crumbling unoccupied cottages too, so at its height through the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries I suppose it would have had maybe fifteen to twenty farming and farm-labouring families.  It’s too small to have its own shop, church or café, but it does have a post box, and the charcuterie van comes round from Ste Sévère on a Wednesday afternoon. 

There’s a big ugly corrugated iron building that appears on the map as a ‘silo’, but it’s really some sort of animal feed store.  It has a large parking area for the transport vehicles to pull in, and an office in a semi-derelict mobile home.  A few years ago a fine marble plaque incised with blue lettering was placed in the parking area.  The effect was rather like the headstone on a grave.  Then, a little later, the concrete pillar supporting it was upgraded to a more stylish plinth.

memorial to the resistance - le chezeau

If my photo isn’t very clear, the French says:

 

A la mémoire
des résistants du groupe Indre-est qui cantonnerent
sur ces lieux en juillet 1944
avant de participer au combat de Genest.

  in English:

To the memory
of the resistance fighters of the group Indre-East who were billeted
at this place in July 1944,
before taking part in the battle of Genest.

 

Genest is a short pleasant walk from here, nowadays, along a waymarked official walking path.  From le Chézeau you go along the road towards Ste Sévère for a couple of hundred yards, then onto a track past some large fields, beside an oak wood and down to a little stream.  On the other side of the stream the path rises through the woods of Beaulieu, and on up to Genest, which is on the main road (if that’s the right term for the D110) between Boussac and Ste Sévère.  There’s a fine view back to the south over the fields and villages of Étoubet and le Chézeau towards the hilly wood of les Pièges.  Tractors steadily working their fields and the telecommunications mast barely keep us aware of which century we are in.  It’s a little hard to see how this can be a battle site – one might suspect that the village fathers are exaggerating the matter, in their zeal to support local patriotism.

The full story of the Battle of Genest can be pieced together via Google (in French), but briefly it goes like this.  To coincide with the Normandy landings in July 1944, a call went out to the French nation to rise up, join with the Résistance, and attack the occupying German army.  The response was massive, especially in Centre.  (see the Wikipedia entry for Pérassay) At the same time, German troops were urgently moved north from their stations in the centre and south of France to reinforce the battles taking place in northern France.  The Germans were furious with the French who impeded their desperate march northwards, and presumably also rather well aware that they would be fighting a bitter rearguard action in a war now lost.  Massacres had taken place in the Dordogne.  A group of the SS were stationed at Chateauroux, but I can’t find out quite why they were moving southwards in July.  Certainly there was a tumult, and bitterly personal reprisals within La Châtre at that time, and Ste Sévère is not far from there.  At Genest on the 16th July, according to the journal of Jean Gaultier, a schoolteacher at Saint Chartier, the German troops made an ambush near two lorries that had broken down, and fought a pitched battle with local people and the Resistance.  Gaultier’s journal is at http://creban.ifrance.com/liberat/gaucum.htm .  The regular troops won, of course, and there is a list of the seventeen French casualties on a memorial at Genest. 

 The thought of that wholesale popular uprising, which has been largely forgotten or denied by ordinary English-speaking people, is one I find intensely moving.  These genial local farmers look well-fed and comfortable as they glide past, high up on their huge tractors, but even so the memorials are new and well-tended.

the memorial on its plinth

 

More to come:

* I will blog another part of the story – and the tale of the courage of the mayor of Vijon – another time, when I can flesh it out with the relevant photos.  

 * More detail about the resistance in the Indre at:
http://creban.ifrance.com/repress/repallete44.html

adventures in Arcy

October 8, 2010

My opinion of the folk at Arcy is becoming very mixed. Yesterday there was a dog barking all day (no exaggeration ) – quite unremittingly, and eventually heart-rendingly. That persistent barking of a dog left alone. When I took our two dogs out for their walk it was a little after five on a beautiful evening, with the warm sunshine slanting across the fields and lighting them up with that special clear green of early autumn. I followed the sound – and there she was chained up around the back of the house on the corner in Arcy. A skinny black Labrador-type, young-looking, rather nervous, and on a short chain attached to a rusting lump of old farm machinery, she was quite likely coming into season.  Maybe that was why she was separated from the other dogs. Out the front were the usual two ferocious black dogs, ramping and roaring at the ends of their chains, and no sign of any occupant in the house. Bandit disgraced himself by rushing at them barking, so I had to haul him off and hurry away in confusion. Thinking back over it, I don’t believe I saw any water put down for any of them. I walked on down the hill, mulling over how I might express a stern letter in French – or even a kindly, concerned letter in French. After all, this isn’t my country – meddling Eengleesh, I hear in my mind’s ear, and think of the plays of Henry VI that we’ve been watching on DVD over these last few evenings. By the time I came back from the walk (after other adventures) there was a car there and the dogs had clearly gone inside. They probably had water by then. Today I went back along the same route – same situation, and the dogs definitely have no water down for the whole day. A dilemma.

The road drops down the hill through Arcy, with wonderful views across the little valley to wooded slopes beyond. Another barking dog – but I’ve met this old chap before – and a woman leaned out of her house to see what the commotion was about, and greeted me warmly. The door and windows were opened wide: major renovations were happening and workmen were going in and out. It looked welcoming and accessible. She made some joke that I didn’t quite catch – something about wanting to go for a walk with me – I think she meant her dog. ‘Lui aussi?’ I responded, and she laughed.  I hope I got it right, or near enough.  Then the road leads more sharply downhill, onwards to a large field.  To the left, at a little distance, is an old mill, set in grounds with newly planted trees: it looks properous and cared-for.  There is a little rushing stream at the bottom of the field: another of the many tiny tributaries of the Indre that wriggle through the valleys around here. When there are no cows in the field the dogs love to play there. – They chased sticks and rushed through the water in the glowing late afternoon sun.

On the way back up the hill, I was a little unnerved to see cows coming toward me. The cattle around here are mainly Charolais: huge white beasts with big horns. 

cattle at a fair in Ste Severe

 They are often driven along the lanes from one field to another, usually with a car in front and one or two people walking and shouting at the rear. These, however had no-one at the front. But if I turned and walked back down the road to avoid them, they would probably follow me, as that’s what they are used to doing. Imagining that someone was droving them from behind, and realising that cows don’t much like dogs, I ducked sideways through an opening into the nearest field – a field of lovely dark green lucerne. The cows started to follow – oh no! I felt dismayed and slightly panicked. – What a silly mistake – they must be being taken to this field to be fed on the lucerne, I supposed, and now I couldn’t get out. Or perhaps – and this looked increasingly likely – they were on the loose, and were following me. It was frightening, and unpredictable. I quietly took the dogs along the inside of the field beside the hedge of brambles, until I came to a thinner patch. The leading cows looked at me occasionally, but seemed calm as they havered and then gradually started to file through the gateway in ones and twos, moving knee-deep in greenery towards the far side of the field. I still felt very trapped and rather silly. I got the dogs to jump through the gap, back down over a deep ditch onto the road. Luckily they are very obedient, and used to being asked to jump, to stay in one place, and so on. Uncertain whether I would be better off in the field or out on the road, I slid through a slightly less brambly bit and perched above the ditch – excellent – feeling much more comfortable with a good view of both sides. The large group of maybe twenty or thirty beasts included cows, young cattle, and a huge bull.

this one is nicely under control at the farming festival - but you get the idea

There was no-one with them, and some of the calves were idly munching on acorns, while others realised that the troop was moving into the field. But at least now it seemed less likely that I would be trampled or gored.

young cattle in woodland

Eventually they were all in the field and I could risk a jump down into the ditch (mercifully no deeper than it looked) and then onto the road. Discreetly the dogs and I made our way back up the road, hoping that they didn’t see me again, and start to follow. I was feeling increasingly certain that those cows had taken themselves out for an unscheduled wander. Some Arcy idiot had failed to close up their electric fence. Someone needed to be told before the fodder crop was destroyed, and maybe the cattle harmed by rich food. (Hardy-esque visions  inform my understanding of animal husbandry – I readily recall those sheep dying of gas and Alan Bates trying to save them; and horses die of colic, don’t they?) I practised French phrases as I walked back up the hill, past closed-down houses. Luckily the friendly woman with the elderly (now amiable) dog  grasped what I was trying to explain, and knew who to phone – the yard across the way also contained a free-range cow and calf. Who knows whether they were part of my herd or not?

So maybe now you can see why I have my doubts about the quality of animal care in Arcy. But then again, a casual inhabitant there had been helpful, sympathetic and willing to struggle to understand my halting French. Even the cows were only fierce in my imagination. A little later I could hear the persistent lowing that goes on when a herd is on the move, and I imagined their herdsman working hard, trying to persuade them to go home.


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