Well, once again it has been a funny but action packed week here in rural France. When we moved here 4 years ago I had ideas of relaxation and attuning myself to the slow pace of rural French life. A morning stroll to the boulangerie to get some bread. A coffee in the local bar while we watched the world go by. Perhaps lunch in a small village restaurant followed by a doze in the armchair in the afternoon.

What I had not planned for is chasing chickens around the fields as they continue to escape. Several trips to the local farmers shop to buy yet more wire fencing. The girl in the shop now looks at us every time we go in and you can see her thinking “what, more fencing, what are they doing with it?” We have now joined up all the fencing and we have totally completed our ring of steel. This has meant climbing into the undergrowth and fighting off thorns and brambles to get the fence securely fixed with no escape holes or weak points. Mrs. Parish and I had a little “high five” at a job well done and went off for a cup of tea and a piece of cake content that we had stopped the hens in their tracks. No more escaping, no more chasing chickens around a large field. Or so we thought.

What we had forgotten is that chickens can flap their wings and fly for short distances. Enough for Emmeline to work out that if she flew up to the top of the gate she could flutter down into the lane or the field. So when we came out from our tea and cake we discovered that we only had two instead of three hens. Of course this then involves a hen hunt. First check the nest box to see if she is laying an egg. Next check all the blind spots to see if she is hiding and then when all internal options are exhausted the inevitable conclusion that she has escaped. Fortunately she was just outside in the lane and therefore quick to recover. It took us a while to work out her escape route until we saw her “taking the mick” sat on top of the gate!

Emmeline taking the mickey with escape plan 7

So we get out more wire fencing and put some across the top of each gate to deter her from flying up there. Mrs. Parish has threatened to clip their wings to stop them flying. I was a bit more aggressive and threatened them with the pot and replacing them with some more docile chickens. The hens were then forced into subterfuge by trying to hide in the back of our tractor and trailer which was in the orchard collecting brambles to go down to the burning patch. The hens were loitering around the trailer. Fortunately we have seen all the episodes of Colditz so know the escape ploys in advance.  In the end we were forced to confine them to their hen house and run by an outbreak of Avian Flu in France (and I think in other parts of Europe).  It is called Grippe Aviaire in France. Grippe being the word for flu and thus my friend Emile refers to Calvados as anti-grippe as an effective medicine if you have the flu. The Government has issued instructions that all domestic fowls should be kept under wire to stop, any contact with wild birds who are the probable carriers of the disease.

We are not sure how long this will last but the hens are not at all happy and every time we go out in the garden we can hear them moaning and complaining. To stop them getting bored we have had to find them a climbing frame and some toys!! At least they cannot now escape so my life is a little more relaxed.

As relaxed as you can be in France when out on the roads. We were driving along and saw a road sign which said “Attention, nids de poules, en formation”. This in English reads “Look out, chicken nests are being formed.” Well we immediately thought that some chickens had escaped and were nesting in the road and looked out but could not see them. We then realised that this meant look out for potholes in the road. When you see the holes that hens make in the garden they do look like potholes. So having found out this useful information we sought to find out what was the French for a bumpy road. Apparently this is “dos d’ane” which in English is donkey’s back. So when in France look out for the road signs that warn you of chicken nests or donkey’s backs!

Look out for chicken nests!

So back to relaxation. Well not yet as last week we were called round to help out our friends Sarah and Ian who needed assistance in putting down some concrete. They live near Ambrieres and are doing up an old property which has some land which includes a small lake (or large pond). Ian has been restoring the lake with a view to having a place to go fishing as well as a place for sitting out and drinking. Part of the plan is to concrete an area by the lake with a view to putting a wooden summer house there. The first stage was to put down a concrete base.

Now Ian is seriously into the whole restoration thing and has just bought himself a proper tractor which comes with an attachment to fix a cement mixer on the back. This enabled us to make the cement at the lake and pour it right into the base. This required Ian to manage the tractor, while another friend Paul was in the hole levelling out the wet concrete. This left Mrs. Parish and Paul’s wife Chris to shovel gravel into buckets which I then had to lift up and throw in the mixer, together with cement mix and water. All to the right proportions. In the end we needed a total of 15 buckets of gravel for each mix and a total of 12 mixes. This meant lifting and loading a total of 180 buckets during a 4 hour morning session. That is 45 buckets per hour!!

Mrs Parish and Chris filling buckets at the lake.

Now, reel back a bit to the idea of a gentle stroll to the boulangerie of a morning etc and you start to realise that something has gone drastically wrong with my retirement plan. This is seriously hard work and having spent a working life behind the wheel of a car or at a desk I am now into an alien world. Thankfully there are compensations and as we dragged our weary bodies back to Ian’s house we could smell the roast pork meal that had been prepared by Ian’s wife Sarah. So we sat around the farm kitchen table eating and drinking the afternoon away.

Concreting was never a skill I thought I would need to master but the idea of mucking in with friends to get a big job done is a great idea and common amongst the French. Many times we have gone to help our French neighbours Giselle and Daniel and they have helped us.

Yesterday Ian and Sarah returned the favour and brought their tractor round with a trailer to remove a whole load of rubble from where our ruined building was knocked down. This meant of course more work with hands and shovels filling the tractor bucket with stones and rubble to go into the trailer. The rubble will be taken back to be used in reinforcing the bank of Ian’s lake.

Ian and his marvellous tractor

We also spent a whole day down at the bottom of the big field cutting and burning more brambles.

It occurred to me that over the work at both houses how lucky we were to have strong and capable wives (or could be a good selection policy). But both with the concreting and rubble removing the women could certainly shift their fair share. But I reflect there was yet another afternoon spent shifting things by sheer hard labour when in all fairness I should be sat with a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake and doing a crossword. I find next week will be little better as we have go and buy a new sink to put into the gite and then get a whole load of guttering which we will have to put up around the cats’ palace barn.

I can’t complain this afternoon as I am sat with a cup of tea and a slice of cake and have nothing to do but write up the blog and consider the wine options for dinner this evening. We have a nice roast of veal from our local butcher. The problem is should I get a nice red wine or maybe a lovely dry white wine. And then I will have to think about aperitifs. You see how hard it is to live in France!

Bon courage,