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  • Tears in a whisky glass

    Me old mate Sprocket passed away this afternoon.
    Died in my arms on the operating table minutes before an operation to remove a cancerous growth or tumour from his spleen.
    Left the vets' in tears.
    'Twas one of the greatest pleasures of my life to have been the keeper of this mischievous little rascal during his entire lifetime.
    There's a big hole where he used to be.
    Georgie, me and wee Jocky miss ya more than you'll ever know.
    See ya again soon chum.

  • Gotta end somewhere

    Oops. Seems that after five or six years of writing this blog, I've finally run out of photo space. Tried uploading a photo and a message flashed up on the screen informing that I need to pay BCUK a ludicrous amount of money (can't remember the exact figure, but to a skint old hermit like moi even a minumum amount of dosh is ludicrous) in order to up my photo capacity from 1GB to 10GBs (whatever that means). So, as my bloggeau just wouldn't be the same without photos, I've reluctantly decided to call it a day here and continue my blethering at my other blogsite which I started some time ago in order to escape the attentions of a saddo heckler. Ah well, life goes on. Many thanks to all my chums and chumettes on this very friendly blogsite for your much appreciated comments and, more importantly, for taking the trouble to read my drivel. Toodle pip.

  • Valley

    For yesterday evening's dogwalk we drove down the valley, parked up, then ambled along the forest path which runs parallel to the stream. Our side of the valley was in shade while t'other side had the sun. Looking out across the valley stream I suddenly noticed that the small pine forest that lined one side of the narrow downhill track from the hamlet had been felled. Stripped tree-trunks glowed orange in the evening sun, littering the open hillside where there was once a dark green blanket of trees. Very soon they'll be stacked, loaded onto lorries, then driven off to one of the local woodyards where they'll await their final destination. Then the cycle begins again with the planting of saplings about a foot high, all set out in rows. The landscape round these parts is constantly changing. Used to bother me at first but now it doesn't. The forests are in safe and expert hands.

    Crossed the stream at the little bridge (where Jock had a paddle and quick drink) then headed up the path for a closer look at the felled trees. Couldn't get far though due to trunks blocking our way. Wee Jockie couldn't get through but Sprocket just jumped from log to log like a mountain goat. Never known a dog like him for agility. And all the while we enjoyed the wonderful aroma of freshly cut pine.

    Curiosity satisfied, we then turned around and headed back. Then, as usual, just when we were approaching the end of the walk, Sprocket detoured left into the field where he chases rats in the banks of the stream. Forget the rodents, it's a really tranquil spot with a lovely view along the valley. At the edge of the stream the ground was smothered in blue flowers. Don't know what they are but they're definitely not bluebells (having said that, they're probably part of the same family - hah, what do I know!). Pottered around there for a few minutes, enjoying the peace and quiet of a warm, spring evening while Jockie had another well-earned drink from the stream (short legs, long walk - gets tiring for the old fella) with Sprocket nowhere to be seen. Minutes later he appeared out of nowhere and we headed back to the dogwagon and drove home. Then the dogs got stuck into a Friday night treat of chicken and rice while I had the same but done as a curry. Marvellous.

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  • Long time no bloggeau

    Been a bit lazy on the bloggeauing front lately. Had a few weeks when nothing much happened (apart from the weather and dogwalking, and I'm sure my reader/s out there is/are bored rigid with all that kinda stuff), followed by a week when Georgie popped over. As my main reason for writing this drivel is to keep her informed of what's going on, there's not much point in scribing stuff when she's out here. Besides that, as I often think when I haven't blogged for a bit, it seems daft to expose one's own private little world to the scrutiny of a global audience who may not have the slightest interest in what one gets up to. Mind you, by 'global audience' I probably mean a couple of old chums who very kindly 'pop in' to check how I'm getting on from time to time. I really haven't a clue who (if anyone) reads this stuff. Which is why it's always most encouraging when someone is kind enough to leave a message. Makes all the effort worthwhile (well, almost). And I'm sure it's the same for all us bloggeauers.

    So..., what's new? Well, I think last time I bloggeaued I was toying with the idea of buying a Mercedes Benz 190 as a replacement for my old Golf GTi. Glad to say I'm now the proud owner of said vehicle. (Click pics to enlarge.)

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    It really is a belter: a 1991 model with a 1.8 litre petrol engine (twin chain cam, not single) that's only done 60,000 miles (if my maths is correct, that averages only 3,000 miles per year) by two previous owners, and all for the very reasonable price of 2,600 euros (about 2,300 quid?). No service history unfortunately, but the chap I bought it from (an elderly farmer who kept it as his 'second' car) assured me it had always been properly serviced. Being somewhat cynical, one of the first things I did was to drop it off at my local mechanic's for a checkover and replacement of plugs and air filter plus an oil change. Mechanic said the plugs and air filter were new so didn't need replacing, and the oil and filter looked newish but he changed them anyway. Apparently my cynicism regarding servicing had been misplaced. Reassuringly, the mechanic said the underside was in superb condition with not a sign of rust or corrosion anywhere. I'm left with the impression that many people in France (and perhaps the UK too) are unloading cars that don't fall into the 'economy' class due to recent hikes in petrol prices - out here a litre of 95 octane costs between 1.50 and 1.75 euros (that's about 1.40 to 1.50 quidish) depending where you buy (1.52 euros at our local supermarshay! - maybe 1.80 or more on motorways). Having said that, I was somewhat surprised yesterday when I did 150 miles (drove Georgie to Limoges airport) on a quarter tankful (according to the fuel gauge) which works out at about 50mpg (not exactly an accurate assessment but, nevertheless, looks promising). A lot to be said for cruising at 60mph (French limit on ordinary roads), in top gear, with a light throttle foot, on open roads with hardly any traffic.

    Anyways..., back to Georgie's visit. Picked her up from Limoges airport a week ago last Saturday (the 12th?) at about 9.15am (French time) after the poor wee thing had endured a night of wandering around Stansted airport (she worked late so was unable to grab a couch) in order to catch an early morning flight (6am ish, UK time). Had a morning stroll around Limoges (bit dull and rainy) searching for a dressing gown (my old one was a shadow of its former self - huge holes in the elbows etc.), looking in shoe shops (what is it with girls and shoes?), grabbing a coffee (sat outside, under a canopy, so I could have a quick fag - windy and rainy) and caught up on news. Then drove home via the supermarshay. Still drizzly.

    Stayed dull and drizzly for most of the week, which was a bit of a shame. However, Georgie, being a keen gardener, saw this as an ideal opportunity to do a bit of weeding, pruning, digging and planting. Dragged her away from her labours a couple of times - once to visit Aubusson to whip the battery out of my garaged and slumbering camper, and once to whizz down to Beaulieu to check if the barn had collapsed and to see if the ruined cottage had disappeared under brambles.

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    Luckily the barn seemed to be holding up, although we noticed a bit more movement over a door archway, and the brambles definitely need attention soon before they really let rip in spring. Shall have to go down there again p.d.q. armed to the teeth with chainsaw, axe, cutters and, possibly, weed killer. Trouble is, it's about 75 miles away. That's a total of four hours' driving. Which doesn't leave long for actual work. Then there's the question of whether to take the dogs or not. Without them I could have a three day session down there, staying in a cheap hotel. With them I have to get back each day. Other things I have to do are to arrange short meetings (or phone chats) with the mayor and the road digger man, just to inform them that we haven't forgotten about the barn, and to find out if we still have permission to go ahead with whatever, should we decide to do so. Then, of course, there's costings. Ooh, too much to think about.

    Barn visit done, we then nipped into Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne for a quick wander round and a coffee. Out of season, Beaulieu seems a lot less 'poncy' and so, perhaps for the first time, Georgie seemed to warm to the place, which I found rather encouraging. Add that to the fact that she didn't seem to be totally against the barn (she isn't totally for it either) and maybe there's a glimmer of hope that its purchase wasn't entirely bonkeurs (pretty close though). The only problem is... we're skint. Still, c'est la vie. The dream (or is it nightmare?) continues.

    Typically, on her last day the weather improved. Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky. Spent most of the day in the garden again, transplanting a few bushes and chucking a thorny one out (big trubs with big roots). Then I decided to dig up a damp spot that we thought might be a drain off point of the fosse septique (cesspit). Discovered what appears to be a hole in the top of the tank or inspection box thingy. Water (grey?) draining straight out. Shoved a tile on the hole and replaced the damp earth. Now have to get a specialist in. Asked Christian if he knows anyone. Said he'll give it some thought. Disastrous as this leak may be, it could mean we'll soon discover the exact whereabouts of the mysterious (and, no doubt, antiquated) fosse septique that the neighbours have assured us exists somewhere out front (no sign of any inspection covers or ventilation shafts).

    Finished off the afternoon with a leisurely dogwalk up the cemetery run. Showed Georgie the violets and periwinkles that I'd discovered up there. She seemed rather impressed. Then spotted a pink primrose. Didn't have my camera so Georgie took some shots. Then ambled up to the hillside field across the valley from our hamlet. Sun low, directly to the west at this time of year. Spring equinox, or whatever it's called.

    Went up there again, late yesterday afternoon, after I'd returned from seeing off Georgie at Limoges airport. This time with my camera. Another wonderfully sunny evening. Walked the same route. Sad not having the full team there. Just me and the dogs. Stood and looked across the valley as we had done the day before. Looking north, beyond the hamlet, somewhere over the horizon, Georgie would probably be on a coach entering London, maybe stuck in a rush-hour traffic jam. And here I am with not a car in sight, standing in the shadow of a circling hawk, lazily cadging a lift on whatever you call those warm, rising winds. Ah well, c'est la vie.

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    Went home and knocked up cabbage, mash and a pork chop. Georgie rang about halfway through to say she'd arrived safely. She'll be out again in a month. By which time I have to plant a blackberry bush and a raspberry that she didn't quite manage to get around to. And I have to make sure all the things she did manage to plant get watered and don't die. Big responsibility. Especially for someone who hasn't a clue about gardening. Ah well, better get digging.

  • Supermarkets are killing farmers

    Amazing. Looks like this is the fifth day on the trot that we've had glorious sunshine with clear blue skies and not a cloud to be seen. Been warm too, so I've been able to conserve precious wood supplies by letting the kitchen stove burn out overnight and not re-lighting 'til the evening cooking session. Do that in the icy grip of winter and it means certain death by frostbite. Been keeping the little upstairs stove going though. It burns slower so it's more economical. Funny how heating becomes a big issue out here in winter, unlike back in the UK where it's almost taken for granted.

    With all this recent sunshine, I've taken the opportunity to tidy up the Golf in preparation for tomorrow's visit by a prospective buyer. I'd probably keep the thing if I could replace that damned malfunctioning Digifiz dashboard (see previous posting), but I can't, so it's gotta go..., hopefully tomorrow. We'll see. Bloke sounds keen and apparently he has a Digifiz that works, so he may well buy. Then I might try and sell the VW camper van. And if that sells as well, I'll just be left with the smelly old dogwagon. Might be a good time to look around for a decent car. Maybe something more modern than my usual 'classic' vehicles. Trouble is, these modern cars are just so bland. And pricey. Ah well, just have to see what happens.

    Evenings are getting lighter. Back in December I used to set off for the evening dogwalk at around 4ish and get back just before dark. However, the last few days I've been setting off around 4.30 or 5ish. And yesterday, I set off at 5.30. Sun was low but still bright. Went up the back field, through the copse, under the barbed wire fence and into the field over the back of the hill. Up there it's all in shade but across the valley the hills were pink with the evening sun. Meandered along to the recently cleared copse. It's an area about an acre in size that used to be completely overgrown with old trees and brambles. The trees have been felled and cut into logs, all neatly stacked in a couple of long piles ready to be used as heating for next winter. Brambles, undergrowth and tree branches have all been burnt. Next stage is to seed with grass, then, probably next year, it'll provide extra grazing for the farmer's increasing number of Limousin cattle.

    Apparently the French government are encouraging (by subsidising?) farmers to increase cattle numbers. Which is why they're clearing woods and expanding their grazing areas. French cattle, especially the Limousin breed, are highly regarded for their excellent meat. I spoke to our local farmer a while back and he said a lot of Limousin meat is exported (hence government subsidies to encourage exports). Apparently there's growing demand throughout Europe but especially from Italy. Somewhat surprisingly, it's meat only, no milk. Our farmer doesn't do milk. Probably no money in it. Which reminds me...

    Saw a telly prog a few weeks back. UK supermarkets forcing down milk prices, thus putting a lot of small-time farmers out of business. Terrible shame. Gave a glimpse of the future. Huge cattle sheds. Cattle penned in individual slots where they're treated like milk machines. Never get outdoors to romp in a field. Interviewed an American farmer who has already invested in such a system. Said the cows are quite happy. Lead very contented lives. My bloody arse, mate! If that's the future, it damned well stinks. I've seen our farmer unload a bunch of cows into a field from a trailer and they've literally jumped for joy at being in the great outdoors. Anyone who reckons cattle are happy being chained up indoors is an idiot. It's total bolleaux. Grr... If people are happy (wrong word but it'll do) to pay 6.50 quid for a gallon of petrol (which is what it now costs!), surely they'll be prepared to pay around 2 quid for a pint of milk from farmers with small herds of outdoor cows. Hey folks, stop buying your milk from supermarkets. Same with eggs. Look around and find a retailer who deals directly with small farmers who don't treat their livestock like dirt. Might cost a bit more but it's worth it. Try inconvenience shopping for a change. Go the extra mile.

    Anyways..., where was I?

    With hands in pockets and absent-mindedly kicking the dirt in that newly claimed field as I pondered the terrible future of dairy herds, I was suddenly aware of my dogs looking at me and wondering why we'd stopped. "Sorry lads, I was miles away. Onwards..." Headed back the way we'd come. Hit the sunlight again at the top of the hill. Sun just setting. Orange, in a clear blue sky. Church bells clanged six in the valley below. A few crows headed home overhead. Jock and Sprocket gave chase, barking. Always makes me smile. Put Sprock on his lead and ambled off downhill with Jock following. Into the shadows then home.

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