Thursday, 31 March 2011

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.....

Well, a wet and dreary week so far. Still, it beats the seemingly endless sub-zeros of Sweden. And, as a bonus, no snow hereabouts.

Charlie came into the bedroom and wailed loudly this morning at about 09:00. A late enough hour, so I got up to see him, only to find he'd already exited again via his catflap. Little booger! But not before harassing his old buddy, Jack, of course. J was prepared and snapped the action:

The temperature is a healthy 12 or so, predicted to rise to about 18 later, with 23 on the cards for tomorrow. Yesterday was much the same, although it rained here much of the time.  Back up North in Fun City they had a low of minus 21 - so, no change there, then. And it's supposed to be Spring!

We had a squirrel cavorting in the garden this morning; though difficult to spot, hiding behind fruit trees and skipping around constantly, it looks like a red 'un. I hope so, and would expect that in this region. We have a good range of fruit trees in the garden: Mulberry, Quince, Pear, Apple, Cherry and Sloe. Some need TLC and pruning but the blossom is out and hopefully we'll have a fair crop later. Always good for freezing, jams, chutney and pickles, not to mention gin - so long as we beat the wild things to the harvest! We have a friend in Kent who makes an interesting and highly slurppable Quince Brandy!

I've just removed the bird feeders - I don't believe in Spring/Summer feeding - there's plenty of tucker around for them at this time of year, and less threat of choking for young birds in the nest if the parents can't dump seed and nuts down the immature throats of their offspring. I know there's a debate about this issue, some favouring all year round feeding and others only winter provision.  I think the RSPB recommends the latter, so I have followed that course for many years and will continue to do so.

We have large numbers of Greenfinch (a firm favourite of mine); Great Tits, Blue Tits and Wagtails around. The racket at dusk is ear-splitting at times. A neighbour, another Brit, tells us there are also Nightingales, though I've yet to see or hear them: should be interesting later in the year, say, July/August, when the evening sounds should be enjoyable. When we lived in Spain, the Alpujarra region, in Andalucia, (Driving Over Lemons country), the village barrancas were the favoured roosts and nesting places of the resident Nightingale population, shy, retiring birds with a distinctive, piping whistle as they flit from bush to bush.

Looking forward to sitting outside with a glass or two (or more) of Rosé and sunny warmth, bathed in the sound of the resident birdlife.

There are also some very noisy Woodpeckers nearby. Most days they spend their time drumming on tree-trunks, presumably hoping to lure mates. There are both Great Spotteds and Greens, it seems. I've also heard, but yet to see, a Tawny Owl that warbles to itself - and as a territorial warning to others - most nights in fringes of the back garden.

We have decided to get a couple of hens - always pleasant company, I find. Yesterday we drove to Parthenay, where it was market day, in the hope of finding some for sale. But, there were none available, which was probably for the best, as we don't have housing or fencing/plot arranged for them yet! Though we have designated a sheltered corner of the garden for their use. Not sure what breeds will be available here, but would like Marans or Rhode Island Reds, if possible. RIRs are usually pretty reliable, hardy, colourful, sizeable brown egg layers. We kept them many years ago when we had a small-holding in the Welsh hills, Brecon Beacon National Park, near Crickhowell. And Marans produce the most strikingly beautiful blotchy eggs imaginable.

We tried a couple of Marans in Sweden but they were some dwarf cross breed (it transpired to our surprise and disappointment!), extremely nervous and hopeless in the egg department. In addition, they were terrified of, and hen-pecked by, our principal hen, a Warren called 'Lady' - a real harridan, if ever there was one. She amply illustrated the true meaning of the expression, 'Hen Pecked'. Although, that said, she liked nothing more than to sit alongside us on a summer evening, eating the odd crisp or peanut, wittering merrily to herself - and, I like to think, to me -  all the while.

Lady was a real character. She would wander off to visit the neighbours, often hiding behind the logs at Kjell's place:

However, she would come racing back from her hiding place when called by name. She was always an optimist in the quest for nosh. It would be grand find another hen like her.

Having just paused for lunch, I looked out of the kitchen window and spotted a smallish, nondescript warbler-type bird perched on the edge of a plant-pot. It eyed me warily before flying off with a flash of russet-red tail. At first I thought it was probably a dowdy female Redstart, but on reflection - and having checked me bird-books - it was a female Nightingale. Nice to get such a clear view, they're usually too covert and not keen on exposure, in my limited experience.

No rain today, so about time to get into the garden and start digging some veg plots. The garden is somewhat neglected but we spent a day or two clearing it up and Frank, our neighbour, mowed the grass a bit for us, so there's no real excuse not to get down to it. The reward will be later in summer and autumn, when we can feast on the fresh produce we hope to have: aubergines, tomatoes, chillis, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, beans and peas, and anything else that looks to be a likely runner in the region.

The neglected garden, ready for treatment:

The general view out front - different from Sweden -No Snow!

J is busy in the kitchen today, making Marmalade, that old UK favourite, from a batch of Seville oranges bought in late January in London and stored in the freezer till now:

`Jack remains ever-hopeful.....

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sunshine On My Shoulders ....

It's been a while since I've been on this bloggy thing. But, we have moved 3000 Kms or so South in the interim and managed to get internet connected in France, despite the language difficulties (for me, at any rate, J is pretty Frogspeak savvy). So, all in all, not too bad, I'd say.

It's almost a month since I last posted anything - my, doesn't time fly!  I previously mentioned the Swedish art of using a Sparka - suggesting an explanation at a later date.

Well here it is, a sparka, with Rolf at the helm:

And another neighbour, Marianna, who uses it daily to assist in her circular keep-fitty outings

Basically, little more than a few strips of wood to hold on to, a few strips of metal to slide along on and a few layers of warm clothing to cope with the biting cold. Rolf is, admittedly, a master of the ancient art. The word itself means 'kick', as you kick start your movement forward and then slide along on the ice. They are used throughout the country by folk of all ages and come in all sizes to suit. J has one and enjoyed the odd foray with it. The older residents of Fun-City, (Junsele), our nearest small town, use them to support themselves while shopping and generally getting about.

And speaking of Fun City, here it is, in typically bustling, Swedish winter mode:

A true one-horse town

On one of my final visits, before heading South to France, I noted the town bakery was flogging off Semlar - huge fluffy, puffy cake-things, rich in colesterol, cream, marzipan.  Truly Viking sized patisseries. I bought two on the basis that, like Ian Botham and his Weetabix, nobody could eat more - save a Swede, that is. They are really quite good and almost a mini-meal in themselves:

A light dusting of non-fattening, icing suger on top - to represent the ever-present snow, perhaps ?

In the event, I only managed one of the buggers, forgot about the other and eventually Foxxy benefitted from it, as a sort of parting gift, to strengthen his reserves till the snow goes.

Having received my digi-camera-download cable from Amazon, I can now reveal Mister Fox as he snuffles around, ignoring me, albeit warily, searching for titbits:

And here is Charlie, virtual hunting from the kitchen window, thinking a nice haunch of Fox might be a useful dietary winter supplement:

I hope old Mister Fox is okay. I'm sure it would only have been a few days before he realised the 'gravy train' had moved on, leaving him once again to his own devices and instincts. Pity poor Monica's chickens, then!

The garden to the front of the house had been getting a bit busy, with huge Pine and Birch trees blocking out the sun to a large extent. I had asked Håkan if he could take a few down for us and he'd happily agreed. He likes nothing more than messing around with dangerous manly, power-tools; always beats a day indoors or in the milking parlour, for his Kroner!  I was plodding around, packing stuff and preparing for the move when I heard the buzz of a chainsaw outside. 

Håkan had arrived with tractor and the inevitable snowfall to help out:

He felled about half a dozen trees before deciding, in a typically Swedish way, that it was time for Fika!




Now this use of a tractor to support while cutting and push when ready to topple, is not something you'll find in any safety manual; elfansafety would have a fit. So not to be done at home, as they say!

The finished mess, which he then cleared up later:

 As we were on the cusp of leaving and had plenty of wood in the woodstore:

 We were only too happy to leave it to him. And the difference in light inside the house made it well worthwhile, even though it was for only a few days!

The move itself went reasonably well. The removal van was, of course, inadequate. It was unable to get up the snow-covered drive to the front door, neccessitating a bit of a heavy, tiring, manhandling of stuff in slippery, sub-zero temps to load up. The drive to Poiteau Charentes took about two days but we escaped the snow to emerge into double-figure PLUS temps and NO SNOW!

Although it's cloudy today, and has been raining, the difference is strikingly enjoyable. Charlie is outside - he now has a catflap - hunting like crazy. He brought a singularly agile mouse home as a take-away last night, chased it round the house for a while, before losing it as it took off, leaping into the air,  out of the back door. No doubt, he's still searching for it now. Persistent sods, are cats!

Charlie on his final foray in Sweden, heading home, little knowing he was about to be caged and transported by car for a couple of days.

And Jack, too, kept in the car for a tediously long time. Aware that something was afoot, but not sure quite what:

What about me, then?

Here is the general view from the front garden, looking vaguely South across the village:

And the village welcome:

And those temperatures.....Brrrr......:

I'll have to get some pix of the new gaff organised soon. Now, I'm off to the nearest Cave to buy some acceptable and agreeable plonk (Cotes du Rhone-type) at 1.50 Euros the litre, en vrac, at the pumps!  Sure as Hell beats the madness of Sweden!