Sunday, 22 January 2012

Another year

It’s a year ago, today, since I had a phone call to tell me that my sister was so poorly that she might not survive. She had an un-expected brain haemorrhage that was so severe that, at the very least, she wouldn’t ever be Sarah again or, at the worst, she would join her husband, Dave, who died the year before, by the morning. I have to say, it changed my life. At the time, I did whatever I could to help her, as well as our family and her friends. Fortunately, for me, I was in touch with a social network and, for all the right reasons, I aired my grief and inner feelings on the world wide web. In my haste, I wrote blogs about how f*cked-up I felt, and what I would give to get Sarah back in one piece. Despite not being religious, I still asked God if he could help out. I even offered my life in exchange for hers, a promise I was prepared to keep. The response from others, both friends and strangers, was phenomenal, and an incredible tribute to human nature.

A few months ago, Sarah came here to France and, despite a few minor issues, she was back in the real world, and could genuinely be classed as normal, sane and rational. Yes, her illness did take a huge toll, but, mainly due to her strength and tenacity, she pulled through remarkably well. I have to thank God and the NHS for that.

Coming from a farming background, our few sheep here at Chauffour are a hobby to me that indulge my love of livestock. I am not sure that I ever want to get my hands dirty trying to earn a living as a farmer again, but nevertheless I have never quite lost that desire to bring life to the world, under my own design, via pedigree cattle and sheep. It is a small but enjoyable task, and one that I gain pleasure out of introducing to Wendy who, bar raising a kitten or too, has not previously been exposed to.
Fate inevitably brings its upsy and downs and, 2 weeks ago, we were confronted with a hopeless case of a poorly lamb that should never have made it out of the blocks. Stupidly I gave it a presence on Facebook, in an attempt to highlight how the interference of nature can incur problems that we have to take responsibly for. We called her Daisy-death-wish and I never anticipated her survival. Next thing I knew, she gained a following, with well-wishers and shepherds alike giving her hope and encouragement. I am happy to report that she did better than expected, and have to wonder whether all this communal hope gave her a better prospect.
Does this seem familiar?
This morning, completely unexpectedly, the brother of said lowly lamb contracted an illness of a terminal nature. Somewhere along the line, I have to take full responsibility for this and, try though I might, I was unable to rectify the situation. It was a tragically sad moment when Wendy, whose faith and trust I had gained with my shepherding prowess, had to witness a recently healthy animal loose its life in her arms without biological explanation. Her grief was hard to console.
Only now, a few hours later, when I note the date, do I refer to my written prayer of a year ago. A life for a life! It was just a sheep. We called him Derek and enjoyed his short life, bouncing about on the drive. A coincidence, surely?
I hate to ask, but does that make it quits now?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Melons for sale

    As we cross the threshold into the year of the Dragon, I find myself wondering what good luck and fortune this Chinese icon will donate to us from its Far Eastern standpoint this year. Last year, the Chinese drove up the price of quality wine in this region by about 50% in their quest to homogenise their Eastern culture with Western consumables which was, if you are wine producer in France anyway, very kind of them. But, it seems, this year the Dragon is on the downturn as well, depending on whose reports you study, and that they (China) are about endure the backlash of a world recession, thus creating, yes you’ve guessed it, another world recession! Confused? Yes me too. Before I became a French peasant, I used to be an analyst until, somewhere along the way, I ran out of things that I actually understood. I think basically what they are telling us here, is that the tail which, until recently, was inadvertently wagging the dog is about to stop wagging itself, causing the dog to curl-up by the fire, and wait for its dinner from an empty cupboard until the year of the dog comes around again. In other words, once again, the spin doctors who control the world media are feeding the public another slice of B/S. Should we panic? Do we care? The real question is, not what will happen, but should we believe what they say will happen? There is a saying in France that goes: Ou est le papier? Which loosely translates as: ‘Today’s news, tomorrow’s toilet-paper!’ Isn’t it time we stopped listening to all this gloomy world forecasts and got on with our lives. Spring-roll anyone?
    Inside our own house, this year has become more like the year of the cat, although I am at pains to point out that the Chinese do not, in fact, have a year of the cat, possibly because they have eaten them all. I may have mentioned this particular cat before, his name is Spike. Although Spike may only possess the body of a half-grown kitten, he has claws of steel and the mind of a criminal genius. Never before has a domestic animal etched back the boundaries of the animal kingdom with such cunning. To start with, despite my best efforts with loft insulation, the wily creature manages to find new tunnels to get into the house, all of which somehow end up in the back of the kitchen cupboard. Every morning is like a new episode of Escape from Colditz, only in reverse, as I am greeted by the smiling cat when I open the cupboard to reach for the tea caddy. One of these days I expect to find a mountain of soil and fibreglass outside somewhere that he has sneaked out through the tiny gap concealed in his trouser pockets. The dogs are none too keen on his omnipresence either, especially Louis whose ever-wagging tail is a constant source of entertainment for a kitten of such advanced stealth and intellect. Outside the patio window we have quite a large bird-table which, during the winter months, Wendy keeps plied with nuts and birdseed. On top of this 2 metre high platform sits a pretty little bird-house, complete with perches, tiled roof and asymmetric windows. Inside that, however, silently sits a small kitten with its mouth open, for 3 hours every afternoon. The poor little birds are traumatised, when they drop in for a quick snack, only to be plucked out of the air and made a snack of themselves. You have to hand it to him: why go out and catch small birds to eat when they can come to you. I am only glad he is not human, or he would be Hannibal Lecter, or at the very least, Garry Glitter.
    My favourite time of year has arrived at Chauffour, that of lambing. Seeing young lambs prancing around in the evening dusk like fawns in a mystic forest, never fails to raise a smile for me. We had a couple of early ones this year, born just before Christmas and, against all advice, one of them has been given a name, Eve. It is doubtful that we will ever be able to eat that one now. However, one slightly larger problem still remains, that of the ram which lives here as a squatter, who still insists on attacking people. I have ended up being his most recent victim, when he hit my knee at full gusto a few weeks ago, confining me to a seat by the fire for 3 days. I am not really sure what his problem is? Perhaps, like our troubled gypsy neighbour who is his rightful owner, he just doesn’t like the English. Despite my asking this awful man, he still hasn’t got around to collecting the damn thing, which has now been in our field for nigh on a year, living free of charge. In the interest of our own safety, I feel the time has come to exercise my rural rites, and shoot the blooming thing. Only, I don’t have a gun, nor a licence for a gun, nor a licence for that particular sheep, nor a licence for a digger to bury the stupid thing with. All in all, the law is not on my side to overcome this problem, unless I turn vigilante and call in a couple of local gunslingers. Maybe I should set the kitten on the case, he seems to have the answer to most things?
    It is great to see that the French are once again in the world news, this time on the wrong end of a scandal about breast implants, known locally as tittygate. It seems that some surgically enhanced ladies have been prone to bursting in public, prospectively in some of Paris’s well known fashion boutiques. One eye witness was quoted saying: “Ooh-la-la, I ‘eard a loud bang, and zen my wife took off like a torpedo, shattering a chandelier before coming to rest in a stack of fruit’n’veg. Eet was terrrrrible. We ‘ad to buy two melons to take ‘ome!”
    Talking of fruit’n’veg; after last months revelation that we now have wheelie bins at our disposal (no pun intended), a rather handy Vente de Ferme, or better known in English as a farm-shop, has now opened down the road. My word, whatever will the French think of next? They will soon be having sliced bread, flushing toilets and round tea-bags!
    Although we didn’t make it back to Rock this Xmas, we did get furnished with a copy of the 2012 Rock X Buns calendar, which we purchased in aid of the Midlands Air Ambulance charity. Congratulations to all those ladies who took part in this exposition. I have to say that January looks good, although please excuse me if my amnesia causes me to forget to turn over the subsequent months!
    Finally, on the subject of Rock, I would like to wish my father, John Frazier, a slightly belated Happy 87th Birthday. He is surely an excellent testament to the fine medicinal qualities of a good malt whisky.