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!