Sunday, 27 January 2013

SO………………………….who stole my winter ???

We bought Le Tardis in 2004 and have holidayed “En France” several times a year to date, infact two of my collies, Tod and Tippy, used to consider themselves Condor Ferrys’ foremast frequent flyers, and used to bark their heads off when they reached French soil, somewhat to the bemusement of the passengers,(foot and car), lined up waiting to go on the ferry…..we got a few funny looks that’s for sure.

But in this whole time our breaks were concentrated in the summer months (yes I did miss a show or two) Holiday No:1 each year) Out to France but back in time for Kernow K9…..Holiday No: 2) Out but back in time for Caerphilly’s dragons and 3)Out but back for Dashing Dogs… get the picture. Hope my husband doesn’t read this….I ‘m almost certain he was unaware at the time …..oops !!

Now in all these years we have never ventured during the winter, and as we now have “plans” and a woodburner, (to add to the electric central heating we already had) it seemed an excellent opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture and spend the Winter. This was all perfectly well planned,…..or so I thought.  
This area,the Poitou Charante, experiences short cold winters….my sister in law was in her shirt sleeves gardening in the first week of December,…we ourselves got a tan in October !. The winter is expected to arrive sometime during December, and peaters out in February,….leaving spring to blossom early, mild and bright. However what USUALLY happens in between, is cold, crisp weather, and SNOW…..lots of SNOW…..snow that last days….weeks….sometimes a month.  Cold weather and winter japes….. and what do I get ?????

RAIN……lots of rain…..”cancelled agility”rain……and who gets my snow ???? You do. Nuff said.   

On a happier note,just kidding, I loved watching all the happy shiny snowmen you built, lol,  how is my winter break going ?????

Well it’s fabulous, truly fabulous.  I am fast becoming an avid Twitcher having come from an area that boasts a zero variety of birds, save seagulls, more seagulls and the starlings whose corpses I find on my garage roof having been killed by, you guessed it, seagulls,and it is of constant amazement and wonder the super birds you get to see for the first time. Now I know a lot of you are fortunate to live in areas where you too see some beauties ,but I for one, as aforementioned, am not. So colour me amazed to see, Hawfinches ,Bramblings, Spotted Woodpeckers and Wrens that have suddenly started arriving within yards(in France but still not metric)of my French windows accompanying all the usual suspects, chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, house and tree sparrows, tits(no giggling)blue, great and pied. Not to mention the multitude of different hawks and field birds I see out and about, when I am going too fast and don’t have an “I spy”book of Birds … (whose old enough to remember THOSE) to identify them with.
I used to be horrendously sad at all the road kill birds I saw on the verge ,until I discovered that  500 or more chaffinches can rise from a field, and dice with death, as you drive past ,and missing them ALL is tantamount to veering off-road, or performing an emergency stop on muddy single track lanes. It’s a good job the roads are so quiet, as I have done both,……several times, and after six weeks still thankfully have a zero headcount to my name.Phew.

And are the dogs happy ???  Well, I will let you judge for yourselves.  

Phee is forever defying Veterinary expectation of her somewhat limited projected lifespan. Would she actually make TWO, due to her poor heart ??? Well she is now NINE, and lives life to the full. To say she is un-affected  would be untrue, she has had a couple of blips since she got here, but then she has those in England. I contacted my Vet after a particularly worrying episode she had the other day, but his advice was, you know the score, just let her be a dog.  We can’t give her an anaesthetic, (too risky) and the first bout of anything she catches won’t be easy for her to cope with, but she’s come this far with her positive swing on life, just let her carry on. As for Mr “just call me autistic” Kif, he still doesn’t move a muscle from the safety of his Castle of Comfort Bed until it’s time to go out, and then as you can see he is more than up for a good old run and herd. Jekyll /Hyde ?, undoubtedly, but again at seven he’s more than set in his ways, however weird they might be. What’s it like to live with a dog that never shows you that he loves you, in ANY form ?? Ask me !!! I had hoped out here he might have lightened up !  Gee, I love him to bits, but to have him even look in my direction willingly, without having to throw in a calming signal, would be a plus. No cuddles, no kisses, and absolutely no eye contact, he’s weird …..W-E-I-R-D.  Yet if any of you walked through the door, he would bend himself in two to suck up to you, wiggle, wag his tail, smile. I don’t know if that hurts more, save the fact, that I know he’s throwing the behaviour as defence. Was he born that way, and that’s why he was in rescue, or did someone make him act this way, and he just can’t leave it behind? Whichever, at least the life I can offer him out in the fields seem to whisk his troubles away, ”anyone say WALK Mum ??”

As for “The Bug” well he’s being, dare I say, relatively reliable on walks,(touchwood… and I did) it was always a grey area as to how much I would trust him. He may be all collie when he works, but he is definitely all terrier out on his walks. Until recently, he has had a less than 100% recall, and anyone who read my piece on  Agilitynet’s FB page, in response to a post regarding recalls, will know, it’s not like I haven’t TRIED. He is nearly four and I still can’t trust him completely. Little bugger. But I have built up to letting him off in open areas, and put him back on a 26’ flexi (giant breed one)only when in woodland, which is his usual downfall .Luckily I have a vast amount of choice walks available to me, so I am getting braver by the day. I did have him off lead when he flushed out five Partridges the other day, and I didn’t lose him to the chase, so I am pleased there is progress being made. 

One of the biggest worries for me is the incredible number of gunmen out, both Kif and I wear Hi-Viz this time of year. 

You couldn’t just plug in a ipod and ramble around, you really have to concentrate on signs all about you, but the main times to avoid are weekends(organised hunts) and early mornings and evenings. I am very glad Phee is keen on barking, she is always announcing our arrival, I am sure they curse me when I am about, as every bit of wildlife within a mile radius vamooses, what with Stitch’s input as well !. 

Well that’s it, a little bit of an update. Next I will be “experiencing” a French haircut, the appointment made in French, a visit to a dentist, ditto, and will be submitting my Montignac Club de Canin application. I’ve been twice weekly for nearly a month and they haven’t taken any money off me yet. They always say French red tape is baffling, but I have to say they appear very laid back about money!!!   So lots hopefully to look forward to, in the meantime ………………

………….can I have my SNOW back !!!!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Vive la différence

Balançoire, Palissade, Passerelle, Pneu ,Slalom, Saut en Longueur ….these are all words in my new agility vocabulary…..luckily, tunnel  rigide, tunnel  souple, and table sort of speak for themselves….phew.

So how did I find French agility ?? Well surprisingly WET if I’m honest. The Clubs grounds are on the banks of the river Charante which although hasn't had to cope with much in the way of local precipitation,HAS received the bulk of the water descending from the flooded North of France which has in itself enjoyed(if that’s the word)the same sort of weather as England. The result ?? Well the need for football studs for starters !.

My two trips so far, once my “paperwork” was in order and we could “play”, have plastered me in mud and left my Nikes reminiscent of the 2012 Tuffley weekend. I have been told it’s not “usual” for this much of a quagmire (where have I heard that before?) in January and that usually it's snow we are grappling with, but I just answered that I’m more than used to it and "where do we start ?".

My fellow agility enthusiast’s are all French, no English spoken, thank God, as I have to find the incentive to expand my vocabulary somewhere. A real variety of dogs,only ONE Border Collie (so far) but a Bull Terrier (!!) 2 Belgium Shepherds, a Rough Collie, a Setter Cross, a Norfolk Terrier, a Chihuahua, a French Bulldog, 2 Jack Russell’s, a Retriever………..etc ,etc,  in other words a real mixed bag. They all seems to have English names though, like Dora, Elliot,(that’s right Sarah Campbell) Magic, and Gadget….go figure, yet they struggle with a name like “Stitch”. Which maybe should be “Point”(Stitch in French)

It’s a good job everybody’s dogs mingled well as of course being in France everyone performs “La Bise”,(the French gesture of kissing each other on the cheek), before the lesson started. Imagine THAT at every class in England with a bunch of worky collies. I was introduced and “kissed” the entire group, including the instructor Michel,which left Stitch looking quite confused….I must remember to tether him up upon arrival next time. I think he was beginning to wonder whether I wanted HIM to pucker up too, so he was glad when the agility started.

The agility itself, same spec equipment, weaves ,tunnels etc, although the tyre was the dreaded old “slung” type on chains,although well padded,and of course,the European obligatory table,they laughed like a drain when Stitch went at it like a steeple-chaser on his first run and refused to “throttle off”  and therefore hit the brakes just as he fell off the back ledge. Oops. We don’t use them ourselves often enough maybe !. He gauged it better the second time….once bitten and all that. One thing that took me by surprise was their obsession with “UPS” . Imagine my horror when unleashing the beast on his very first run when he got criticized on the see-saw for only having a toe on it !!  I could see the instructor doing a charade of “only just” and it caught me so much by surprise that I thought he was challenging my 2o2o…sort of difficult when the dog is still on the bloody thing in the classic “Look at me Mum” pose. It was only then that I realized he meant the “up” which caused me to reflect after the run, has Stitch ever got marked on an up ?? Answer, no never. No one seems to sprint past their dogs on contacts as they are fannying about checking their stride pattern before they commit. They seemed quite surprised that I really appeared not to give a Merde but he didn't miss any, so I presume they will get used to my lack of concern.  

Handling systems, hmmm they appear to have got caught up somewhere in the 90’s, plus they have an unreal reluctance to rear cross, and the much publicised “European”Ketschker  was nowhere to be seen (So I threw in two just to stir things up) ! Certainly at my club they don’t seem to “drive” hard but seem happy to “accompany” their dogs around a course. They get the job done, and the dogs are keen, motivated, and competent. The handlers too are kind, considerate, fair, and use positive reinforcement, but there is a real lack of frenzied excitement generated, they prefer instead to keep the dogs calm and low-key. Seeing Stitch running around like a headless chicken at full chat screaming at the top of his voice must have been a real shocker. He did however achieve what I like to call the “grin” factor, as he hit the weaves at an impossible angle 15 feet ahead of me directly infront of the assembled masses and I heard an audible gasp as I picked him up on the end having run in diagonally at him.  He didn’t let me down he is,..... after all, .....a superstar.

So why the gap in technique and attitude ? Especially as these folk have represented the Poitou Charante and the Instructor has run for France ??  Well I put it down to the size of agility in our area. The Poitou Charante has 4 CNEAC(the KC equivalent) registered clubs, and is an area larger than WALES!!!!!. As I understand it to compete you cannot do so as an individual, but do so for your club and Region. Also not just anyone can train you, they have to hold a very specific certificate to do so. Added to this the need to travel vast distances to attend shows in other regions and the non-existent grading system, making every class a 1-7, isn't IMHO particularly conducive to the growth of the sport. The club I now belong to runs a CNEAC show each year and is applauded for people coming from all around France making numbers totaling nearly 100 competitors !!!!!!!!!  Could you imagine that at any Kennel Club show. LOL

But this isn’t me having a downer on French agility…FAR FAR far from it. Having started agility myself over 20 years ago I find the social side of it very refreshing as it is very similar to how it was back then. Lots of folk having a lot of fun with their dogs not taking it too seriously and welcoming foreigners with ballistic terriers into their midst even though the only language they speak fluently is, agility itself.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Who has the time for this retirement lark?

One of the things that seems to have obsessed people when telling them about our proposed life in France is : what were are going to “do”. Well take it from me folks, this relaxed lifestyle is sort of,…. time consuming…. !!.

Take a “normal” day. Now the nice French folk have managed to get their clocks one hour infront of ours in Blighty so, technically, your eight o’clock is actually our nine. Happy as I am to be an early riser, there isn’t much point if it’s still pitch black at 8am local time, so a cozy little cup of tea in bed seems like a much more sensible idea.

Stitch too has gone from being an early morning nightmare, (whine, scratch, moan) to the sort of dog you have to prise out his doughnut bed to have a wee, so popping down, putting the kettle on, and returning to my dosing (that’s not DOZY) hubby has now finally become an option.Hooray. Safe to say after re-warming my tootsies and swallowing my 1st batch of “meds”, clambering back out of bed seems pointless until 1) they have kicked in and 2) there is actual daylight to be seen.

Hello NINE a.m.!  ….. Downstairs for muesli and a cup of strong coffee to ready myself for action. What action you ask ?…..well decide if you need to go grocery shopping or need something more specific for the houses’ revamp from holiday house to permanent residence ?. Well the shops shut for lunch at 12 (until 2pm) so you better make your minds up fast coz there is nothing more frustrating than trying to fit a weekly shop into a 30 minute “window”. It fast beings to resemble “Supermarket Sweep”

You have plenty of time until 12.00am I hear you say, well not really, as there is also under consideration the “W” word ie: are canine breakfasts required immediately upon our morning decent and W relegated to an afternoon activity or, are they “good to go” before you go out?. Try fitting a W in before the shopping and beating the lunchtime deadline.??? Nope, afternoon it is.

So now your morning has degenerated into dashing around before the shops shut, your afternoon understandably pandering to your dog’s needs ……before you know it, it’s clean out your wood burner, get in some logs, do your Snow White bit to the increasingly grubby floor tiles (as a result of the W) flick around a duster,peel some veg and bingo it’s getting dark.

I announced this morning (in bed with a cup of tea) at 9.38 a.m. OUR time that on Tuesday we have been here a month,we then spent a good ten minutes trying to remember what we had ACTUALLY done during that time. Needless to say the “things needing doing” list had barely been started, and we’re not consoling ourselves that we still have another umpteen weeks. We seem to have been flat out for the last four.!!! Priceless.

Anyway,one of the things that prompted this blog was my blog or lack of it. So I will promise you that I will do my piece on French agility in the next couple of days. I have attended once,last Wednesday,and am due another visit tomorrow (Saturday) so no excuses, I will find the time…….just probably when it’s dark !!.

Post script: My last two blogs had no pictures...that sucks, so here are a couple to keep you going and to assure you it does cloud over here sometimes....even rains........   

Winter sunset 

Double rainbow 
Phee barking at puddles(before splashing in them big time)