The hens clearly have a taste for freedom. We have spent the past week chasing hens back into the garden and then trying to seal up the escape routes. In doing so we have discovered that hens can squeeze under gates and fences through quite small gaps. So we have been reinforcing all the gates with yet more chicken wire. Once we have secured the gap and got the hens back into the garden they go off and quietly give the appearance of feeding in the grass. Of course as soon as we go off to do something else and turn our backs the chickens are off to find another escape route, perhaps over the bank that goes round our garden and orchard. 

Several times we have intercepted them in our lane as they head for freedom. On one occasion Emile and Yvette arrived and four of us were in the lane chasing the hens up and down and trying to get them back through the gate. As we get more frustrated the hens also come up with cunning plans by hiding in the garden, so we think they have escaped as a kind of double bluff. We go off up the lane and then come back to find them quietly feeding in the garden.

Sylvia hiding in the undergrowth

In the end Mrs. Parish and I came up with alternative solutions. My idea was to put up cooking pots on all the exits and threaten the hens that the first one to escape would be eaten as a lesson to the others. Or as the French writer Voltaire put it – “Pour encourager les autres'. This is a quote from Voltaire's 'Candide'. The full quote is "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" ('in this country (England), it is good, from time to time, to kill an admiral, to encourage the others'), and refers to the unfortunate fate of English Admiral John Byng, who was executed in 1756 at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War.

Byng was sent to relieve Minorca from French assault, the island being as valuable at the time as Gibraltar. A French fleet lay around the island, and it was Byng's job to seek battle and smash through; but when the time came his attack was half-hearted, and Byng soon withdrew to Gibraltar. Minorca fell, the Admiralty were appalled, and Byng was hauled back to England for court-martial. The court found that he "did not do his utmost to take, seize, and destroy the ships of the French king, which it was his duty to have engaged". He was convicted of negligence.
Byng was executed - by firing squad, on the deck of HMS Monarch as it lay in Portsmouth harbour - the message seemed clear enough. Britain's navy distinguished itself during the rest of the war, although whether this was because of Byng or not is a matter of debate. A firing squad for the hens, hmm, perhaps a word with the local hunt?

Mrs Parish thought my scheme a little over dramatic and put forward her own solution – chicken toys!  Apparently chicken toys are things to divert the chickens and keep them amused during the day. Thus they do not get bored and wander off. Chicken toys, I retort, what are we running here, these are supposed to be working chickens and all this pandering will bring trouble!! Mrs. Parish ignores my rant and goes off to order toys via the internet. No sooner said than one of the hens is trying to hitch a lift in our gite guests’ car. Chicken toys, whatever next.

Emmeline about to hijack our guests car

If the hens were not enough of a problem we are now firmly under siege from insects. The hot weather has seen an increase in mosquitoes and other bitey insects. Normally they don’t bite me as I clearly have a tough old tasteless skin and my blood is not to their taste. Usually they by-pass me and go straight for Mrs. Parish who has a range of repellent sprays and soothing ointments to deal with the problem. This year I seem to be a target. It may be that there are more of them and that there is not enough of Mrs. Parish to go round so they start on the second rate stuff. The upshot is that I have a number of bites. I think a lot is to do with a mosquito that is hiding in our bedroom. It waits till the light is off and then you hear the zzzzing of the insect as it flies around your head causing manic swatting with hands at something that you can’t see in the pitch dark. It is made worse by being hot at night so the temptation is to throw off the bedclothes. This is a fatal mistake as it leaves vast areas of your body open to assault. It is the stuff of nightmares!!

And now we have a wasps nest. Fortunately not anywhere near the house. This nest is in a hole in the ground on the walk around our big field. It does however need to be dealt with as it is on the path and there is a danger when cutting the grass with the tractor mower or when walking by. There are a number of patent methods involving spray cans of varying sorts but the first problem is that you need to spray the nest after it starts to get dark. This is to make sure all the wasps have returned to the nest to ensure they can all be destroyed. So solution 1 is a can of foam which I get sent out to spray on the nest. I have to take a torch and finding the nest without stirring up the wasps is the first problem. I eventually find where the nest is and spray white foam into the nest and run away quickly as it seems the wasps are none too keen on this. I went back the next night as this did not seem to work and sprayed the rest of the foam and then covered the nest in earth.

By the next day the wasps had re-colonised the nest and cleared the earth away so this time we get a different insecticide spray and Mrs. Parish takes charge of affairs. She sprayed the whole can in and hopefully this will succeed. We discussed the wasps’ situation with some friends. An English friend suggested pouring petrol down the hole and setting fire to it. He reckoned it was very effective! Also a trifle dangerous and as well as setting light to yourself could cause a widespread fire in the dry conditions. It seems that Emile has a patent rural French method and to deal with a friends wasp nest Emile took his blowlamp to kill all the wasps. Apparently he was at the nest site for at least an hour and came back with several stings. We may have to revert to Giselle’s witches brew. A strange but deadly concoction that worked well last year but is probably illegal and constitutes some form of chemical warfare!

So we are in the midst of the Great Drought as we have had no significant rain for 2 months and everywhere the grass is brown and plants in the garden dying where we can’t water them. On the plus side I haven’t had to cut the grass in weeks and we have had a bumper crop of tomatoes, which we can water. There is now a hose pipe ban in the Department but we tend to use watering cans anyway and where we can recycled water from the three rain butts that we have. Of course these have been long empty. The dry conditions have affected the birds. Usually at this time we have loads of swallows gathering around us getting ready for the autumn migration back to Africa. But we have seen very few and it must be that they are gathering elsewhere where there is a better food source.

The desert that is now our garden

The weather forecast is for continuing dry conditions with a slight risk of rain on Thursday but we could do with a few days of rain. The crops in the fields are not looking good and farmer friends cannot graze their stock as there is no grass. The sheep in our paddocks and the cows in the next field have all gone back closer to the farms so that they can utilise some of their winter feed now. It does look a bit of a desolate landscape at the moment.

At least with the fields having no grass has made it easier for the hunters to catch mice, including our cats so they are happy!

Now I must go and check where the hens are before settling down to a nice aperitif, probably sat in the garden.

Bon weekend