Thursday, 20 June 2013

An "old dog" learning new tricks!!

One of my agility acquaintances the other day was reflecting on the tragic loss of her Mother and it was at that point that I also reflected(with a smile) about the many times I think about my late Mother (who died in 1991) whilst I potter around my French garden.
It would have tickled her pink to see my efforts of gardening for instance. Her father and his family were all green fingered, and Mum liked nothing more than to be out in the garden managing her roses and perennials. I have always had one thing, and one thing only, in my back garden in England over the last 23 years, LAWN, and some pretty patchy, well “rearranged” lawn at that, thanks to the umpteen pups/youngsters we have had over the years, digging and playing and burying stuff,(and each other) countless times. Oh the “joy” my other half had over trying to flatten it out and fill it in when the Estate Agents came to take photographs!.

Now in France, our gardening is what one might call, a “voyage of discovery” mainly as I couldn't tell a weed from a flower, and the ground here, plus the high temperatures, can be hard on everything. I have, therefore until of late, opted for the odd shrub and annual mainstays like Marigolds,pinks, lavenders, and have filled in my borders with succulents, which can take the heat. Everything thus far has been planted on a “it has two chances” basis. We have had surprising victories and losses, but the fact that we have effectively, fought back a French jungle on each and every occasion we have returned, and yet once the debris is cleared, there they all are, trying to survive the odds, and seemingly, just waiting for me to come and give them another chance, to make it another year. But now with the intention of keeping them company year long, I can begin to actually PLAN my garden, buy flower baskets and fill them with pansies,(my favourite) and learn the flowers and shrubs names and mix colours seasonally, in the new feature border I have had dug out, to “experiment” with.(well Richard did the digging if I’m honest).

Similarly, I have discovered over the years that whatever you provide for the birds in the area, be it peanuts, sunflower seeds, fat balls, etc, there is one thing, and one thing only, guaranteed to bring birds to your garden,…….a bird bath!!!.  
Now my birdbath was, you guessed it… my Mothers!!, it’s odd, but I can still remember(and that’s a feat in itself) buying it with my brothers,(and my Dad’s financial backing, one presumes). It was for a Mother’s Day or birthday. It came from Fairweathers Garden Centre in Beaulieu village, just down the road from where we lived in Hampshire. It’s a horrid thing by modern day standards, made of concrete, and well worn, it must have seen 40+ years!. My Mother had it on her patio just outside her French windows, and she used to sit at her dining room table doing the crossword, chuckling over the various sparrows and blackbirds that called on her to have, what seemed like, water fights.   
It now stands on our top lawn and can be seen through the lounge window, I find watching it more entertaining than TV. We have had squirrels, Woodpeckers, Hoopoes, and an array of Redstarts, Serins, Buntings, plus all the usual suspects, Blackbirds, sparrows and Tits who visit it daily. I fill it up two or three times a day in the summer and the birds themselves line up in the walnut tree waiting for me to vacate, so that they can visit their very own luxury spa.

So there we are, when I say I miss my Mum, I truly do, but I can’t help but think she’s somewhere laughing her socks off, that finally I can share a couple of HER passions, and laugh at myself and therefore with her ,at my foray into gardening and enjoying the pleasures on your own doorstep. 

Never mind the gardening though, what’s going on in my kitchen ??. Now jam-making was never a childhood memory for me, cheese straws and Easter biscuits, yes (my brothers will get that joke) but I’m sure Mum wouldn't mind me saying she preferred being in the garden, than AT the cooker. But over here there is such an abundance of fruit and produce during the year,a lot of it free, and food on the shelves being very expensive (French living expenses, cheap, food extortionate) so it would be very stupid to not make use of the opportunity to save money.  

Last time it was Sloe Gin, but this time I was interested in making Jam, mainly as my sister in law has a massive cherry tree at the front of her house, and secondly because I had been given a gift of Jam pots, lids and labels that were too cute not to use. Once we received the phone call that told us the cherries were ripe, it was a simple(!) process of sending Richard up a tree to pick me a couple of bucket fulls (All the lower branches had already been picked) Once we had the all the ingredients (after a quick trip to the supermarket for conserve sugar) it was back to the cottage for the statutory e-mailed request to the “Jam Guru” that is, my brother, for a recipe, once armed with a that and the advice that you need some strawberries as Cherry jam is very difficult to set, it was off to the stove. I’d love to say that it was a faultless process,but some jiggling recipe and some tense moments, ensued, but finally “Tah dah”….. I have…………..probably enough jam for the next 12 years…. And I only eat jam in cakes, so the next day I began my my quest for the prefect Victoria Sponge, there goes my diet. !!!!  

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Strange "goings on" at Le Tardis

Ok, so I am now beginning to believe in this carbon footprint stuff. Granted the weather in England has been effective S@*t  of late, and has tampered with, or utterly cancelled our favourite shows(& training) and, save to say, we have been forced to get used to being wet and cold, even if its technically half way through the year !!….We have to face it, 2012 was a washout,and 2013 isn't so far doing much better, but good old reliable “Belle France” now that’s a different story…..or WAS.

Having purchased Le Tardis in 2004,and having spent frequent, regularly timed breaks over here during the last nine years, you KNOW what you are going to get, hot, sometimes too hot,(there I said it!!)sunny Springs, leading to blisteringly hot Summers and Autumns. Virtually six months of solid heat. Or so I thought.
Imagine my horror, upon my return, discovering due to the continuous rain(gulp)recently, the garden which can be left for 6 months, and can take up to two days to clear, managed to grow twice as high/thick in three months, and is still showing signs of resistance a week later!!!  It had to be brush cut, then the whole area strimmed, and finally mown, our lawnmower and its operator are accusing me of trying to finish them off.  The forecast was rain and more rain, so imagine Lesley’s joy at reporting her Wye Valley show was enjoying glorious heat. Yeah love…..whatever !!!

I decided to take a break from watching Richard garden…(I DID help really) and go and have a chat to my French agility club acquaintances, and get some French conversational skills dusted off, plus introduce them to Kif, who will be my agility playmate for a few weeks. I should have known I had slipped into an alternative reality when I arrived, to find one of my fellow club members soaked to the skin, as she had just had to dive in to save her Bull Terrier from drowning in the swollen river !! Good start, although I did remember what “Do you have a change of clothes" was, in French........ Result !

Now to discover that once the complete membership had arrived,that training was “OFF”, due to the fact that the grass in the agility area had not been mown, or a goat had not been ushered onto it, one presumes. Taking a look at it, I can only imagine this had been a problem for more than a couple of sessions, would it be done for Wednesday’s scheduled session. Peut-ĂȘtre (maybe) I was told. Great, so we will all turn up then and just SEE, shall we ??Or shall we use modern contraptions like,say,mobile phones or e-mails ,to let each other know beforehand !!!!!

What I hadn’t bargained for however, was the hour we spent discussing the lack of available agility training, this however, gave me a chance to get Kif out, and introduce him to everybody, and in true Kif style, he crept around all the people, and played with all the dogs in his patented semi-autistic “I am not worthy” style of submissiveness, although watching him try to get down on his shoulders, to be lower in rank than a Chihuahua, was hysterical to the extreme. Poor-mall adjusted Kifler.

Anyway, I am glad to say, that after two nights of burning logs, the temperature control over the Poitou-Charante was finally creeping back up to normal. The forecast was getting brighter and this only meant one thing…..down tools in the garden, and head off to the river for a spot of fishing. All sounds perfectly reasonable and the first day I couldn’t keep the little blighters off my line, much to Richard’s disgust, as he was trying to christen a new rod. On the second day, it was more of the same, although Richard was beginning to pull even in the fishy stakes.

Day three, now this is where you can all have a laugh at my expense. We have several preferred spots to fish but not all of them are accessible at all times of the year, due to crops etc. So, I decided to go down to the river via “Pooh corner” a tributary stream off the main river, that doesn’t fish well when the river is moving fast, which it was at the time, so, just past there is an adjoining lane going down to the Charante, which we have taken many times. “I’ll go that way” I said, “no dear, due to the recent rain it might be muddy”replied my other half. ……Taking the lane irrespective of his comment, and at the VERY moment I announced “Anyway this Doblo is REALLY good in mud it never gets stuck”……. It DID just that, GOT STUCK !!!

Long story short, we spent 2 hours trying to, “think outside the box” jacked the spinning wheel up (twice) and placed rocks,vet bed etc etc underneath it. We moved countless bags of hardcore (broken up French roof tiles) from a small stash just up the road and actually moved the car four feet forward, but nevertheless it was still stuck. It was at that point I admitted defeat (Bear Grylls would’ve freed it no doubt) and phoned my brother in law, oh the shame, and embarrassment………. I’m not going to live that one down in a hurry…. But we STILL went fishing and caught loads.