Monday, 9 November 2015

Three French Hens

Gertie, Ida and Flo arrived about a month ago, dragged from a pen of 50 hens, randomly selected from 900 intensively reared birds now surplus to commercial requirements. Contemplating the destiny of the other 897 breaks my heart.
Rescue Hens

For I have discovered that hens are delightful creatures.

My grandmother kept them, and was largely the inspiration for this foray into poultry keeping. She took a dim view of them, called them ‘silly things’ and 'daft birds’. Not a bit of it. Buff brown feathers and frilly knickers, my hens are full of personality and charm.

I could spend hours watching them: manhandling a large lettuce leaf, flinging it about themselves like someone battling with a pashmina in a high wind; racing each other to the tasty morsels like blousey girls after the bride’s bouquet; hurrying over to me like middle aged ladies running for a bus.

My three were from an intensive egg farm. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of them when they arrived. Scrawny, bald backs and bottoms, wattles and crests bleached almost white, nails like talons where they had never had the chance to scratch the earth.

On their first morning, they were in what we laughingly call our wild-flower garden. They moved slowly, unsure of what to do. They had had a whole a year of life with no access to the outdoors, kept under artificial light.

Apparently, commercial egg producers keep their layers for one year only after which they are replaced by new, young hens. Once they have laid an egg a day for a year, they are considered redundant and are destined to be turned into animal food.
It is a sad reflection on our morals and priorities when an animal is viewed as an automata, not even afforded the dignity of a normal, natural life.
So spare a thought for all the millions of Gerties and Idas and Flos when you buy your eggs. Maybe you can find a local producer where you can see for yourself that the birds are happy, well nourished and allowed access to daylight.
Better still, give a few hens a home.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Its our anniversary!

It's exactly two years since we arrived to take up residence here in France. And in that weird way time has, it feels both like an eternity and as if it were only yesterday.

We haven’t tired yet of the stunning views out over ‘our’ bay; the vast stretch of sky visible from the windows, with its ever changing moods; the satisfyingly large expanses of countryside and forest surrounding us; the myriad birds who sing in our garden and the woods where we walk;

  the clifftop paths and rocky coastline.

Geoff is in daily pursuit of sighting the otter who is resident in the river by our house. We have seen deer, hares, badgers, stoats and once, a giant white water rat, the size of one of the dogs.

Besides the wildlife, we have our own menagerie who keep us entertained and active. The dogs, brought over from the streets of Sri Lanka adore their daily walks, the rabbit holes, the mole hills, the sheer exuberance of cantering across and empty beach.

There is Sid, the ‘cat who can do no wrong’, who, also rescued from the streets of Colombo, now sleeps on our pillows and basks in the first faint rays of Spring sunshine. He is a cat of such immeasurable sweetness, who graces us with warmth and love.

Unthinkable before we came here was the prospect of donkeys. Lolly, Biscuit and Delaney have transformed our outlook and our daily lives. Extraordinarily loving, they are guaranteed to lift the spirits. Putting your arms around the woolly neck of a donkey, or having their heavy head resting on your shoulder is a moment of such intimacy and affection. They are fun, too. Lolly in particular likes to tease us, picking up a tool bag and running up the field or holding Geoff’s sweatshirt aloft in her teeth, defying us to be cross. I love donkeys!

And now we have the hens. I had no idea one could love a chicken, but in the ten days since they arrived, they have captured my heart, especially Gertie, the bolder of the three, who dives towards me when I open the door and follows me around the garden, fighting me for the weeds I have just upended. They are supreme garden clearers. 

In less than one week they have decimated much of the weed population of one part of the wilderness that is our back yard. In addition, they take care of all my vegetable peelings and leftover rice, PLUS they give us fresh eggs every morning. What a blessing they are.

In the two years we have been here we have hosted over a hundred children and around twenty adults for language immersion holidays. Its a job we both love. What other occupation requires you to sit on the beach one afternoon a week throughout the summer, and to go walking with the donkeys or horse riding or playing croquet on the lawn? We have met some wonderful people and had the great satisfaction of knowing that most of our clients have left with great memories and an even greater enthusiasm for the English language.

And of course the biggest bonus is the tracts of time between ‘working’ when we can focus on our real vocation - writing. In the two years since we arrived here, I have finally published my first book and have a quiver of novels underway. Geoff is tantalisingly close to finishing his second book, Quimper Vannes and has a shelf of other projects lined up.

One of our principal motivations for coming to France was to give Toby the opportunity to learn French. Now presque bilingual, he is roaring away at school, achieving high marks, even in French!

In all, these two years have proved productive beyond all our expectations. They have taken us on a journey we had not anticipated but have brought us to a way of life that is rich in so many ways. Long may it continue!

Monday, 19 May 2014

All around the houses

I have yet to find a phrase in French to express 'all around the houses.'

A very nice man in the office of the Greffe de la Tribunal la la la la la used the phrase 'vous avez baladé' which touches on it but doesn't quite capture the frustration and futility.

Let me explain. I need to declare my earnings from last year. To do this, I must register my activité and get the ball rolling. Once I have done this, someone will send me my Siret or Siren number (no idea what the difference is but I don't think it matters) which I can then put on my declaration des revenus and all shall be well.

Simple, providing you can find the right place to register.

So far we have been to five different offices, all in different towns at least 30 - 40 minutes drive from home (in opposite directions). At each encounter, we have been met with much scratching of heads. Finally, we found a helpful young lady in the Centre de Impôts in St Brieuc who directed us to the nice man I mentioned above.

He, it turned out, is not the right person either but he did at least have the right form for us to fill in and furnished us with the address of the office we should deliver it to. In St Malo. A brief look at a map will tell you that St Brieuc and St Malo are approximately 100 km apart.

You can see why I am searching for a French equivalent to 'all around the houses'.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


We have acquired a donkey.

I have long hankered after one but never thought I would ever actually own one.

Lolita comes to us with a bit of a sad history from a family who can no longer keep her due to ill health.

She is utterly lovely and I am in awe of her.

She's way stronger than me and could break my toe just by stepping on it. She has huge teeth and a proclivity for nibbling pockets and sleeves, presumably in search of edible morsels, but you never know.

As I was leaving, she followed me up the field and gave me a hearty nudge on the bottom. I am taking it as a gesture of friendship. I have learnt from the screeds of information I gathered on the internet these last few weeks, that donkeys communicate with each through nudges and shoves.

I hope we learn to be friends very soon. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, 2 May 2014

New Life

I am beginning to grow things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, gardening is not my forte, but I yearn for things to be burgeoning around me and to be instrumental in their blossoming.

To whit, I bought some dirt cheap mini hothouses from Lidl (in effect a plastic lid over an average seed tray) and have planted some seeds.

I don't have any suitable windowsills, so they are sitting on the worktop, next to the kitchen sink. It is inconvenient for them to be right under my elbow as I wash up, but it does mean I can't forget them.

For a week or so I have been gently watering them and mopping away the condensation. The basil have thrust into the light with vigour, waving intense green leaflets at me and bending this way and that towards the sunshine.

The chillies are more reticent. But yesterday I spied a tiny white frond, still curled into the soil, arching its back into the daylight.

I feel peculiarly maternal towards it. I have examined it several times in the intervening twenty four hours and am delighted to report that the tiny green specs of the first leaves are just visible. It is so exciting.

Elsewhere, other things are obliging me by growing. A while back I planted some tulip bulbs I found at the back of the cupboard. I have watched them impatiently as they labouriously pushed up their long green leaves. Its taken them weeks and I was giving up hope of ever seeing an actual bloom. Everyone else's tulips are just about over, having given a marvellous display in the spring sunshine. Mine are pillywally. The two or three flowers that are just now unfurling look drained of colour. It probably as a result of having spent many seasons at the back of a cupboard.

All this makes me grow bold and I have purchased more bulbs from Lidl. I have put a few tubers in the ground, although I have forgotten what and where they are. I am working on the theory that they will surprise me when they arrive. The strawberry plants I bought from a nice lady on the market are thriving despite the fact that the cat has upended them on more than one occasion. I am guessing that cat poo is a good fertiliser as they are showing signs of fruit already. Not too sure I shall want to eat it though.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Z is for Zen and the art of living in France

It has been just over a year since we came here to live and the magic is still very much alive.

Granted we are blessed to be living in a particularly lovely corner of France, but even without rose tinted spectacles, the positive aspects of life here far outweigh the negatives.

Plenty of expats will spin you stories of interminable red tape and inflexible bureaucracy. A plethora of fora (or is that forums?) has sprung up, affording the disgruntled and jaded the opportunity to moan about shortcomings of the French way of life.

My feeling is that in being here we have chosen this life. Granted, we can't vote so have no power to change the status quo. But we can practise the gentle art of gratefulness. We can appreciate the slower pace of life; enjoy the finer points of French cuisine and wine; participate in the community around us.

Zen may appear to be a cop out in the search for a topic beginning with Z, but I actually believe that to benefit fully from this life in France, we must be detached from the potential frustrations and focus on the joys of the French way of life. Acceptance brings peace and in the true spirit of Zen practice, observation brings understanding.

I hope my 27 observations this month have enlightened you a little and given you a taste of this life in France.

Post script: Z is also for Zut!

I cannot pass by Z without at least a brief reference to that marvellous word - Zut!

As expressive as any of our more vulgar anglo saxon expletives, it captures perfectly every moment of frustration or disgruntlement.

And it's not even rude. How cool is that?

Zut alors!