'Fear not, till Birnam wood

Do come to Dunsinane:' and now a wood
Comes toward Dunsinane.

It has been a bit like a scene from Macbeth this week as I seem to have spent hours in the garden moving brush wood down to our big field for it to be burnt. The brush wood is all the small branches and leaves that came off the trees cut down or pruned. This meant that all around the garden there were great piles of brushwood. Mrs. Parish likes a good bonfire so decided that we should burn the brushwood in the big field away from the house and far away from any neighbours.

This meant grabbing hold of branches and pulling great swathes of branches across the orchard to the fire. Of course this meant I disappeared under the camouflage and gave rise to the comparison with the scene from Macbeth. Of course any mention of Shakespeare brings out my Richard III impression and I’m wandering round the garden with a hunchback quoting “Now is the winter of my discontent” which seemed quite appropriate to my situation. The piles of wood are all round the garden and also quite a way to walk dragging wood. The branches also manage either twang back and catch my legs and my face and then succeed in tripping me up on a regular basis. For some relief I move on to the next task of chopping and stacking wood.

All the big branches and tree trunks were cut into 50cm lengths by Paul our tree man but many of them were too large to go into a wood burner so have had to be split. This involves using a large axe like implement called a maul. It is not sharp like an axe as this would just get stuck in the wood but it an axe like blade which splits the wood. It is quite heavy and after splitting half a dozen logs I am exhausted and have to find a suitable log to sit on while recovering my breath. Just splitting the logs is only half the story as they then have to be wheel barrowed to a log pile to be stored. So now we have 5 large piles of wood around the place. They need to be put under a weatherproof sheet so that they can dry out over the next 12 to 18 months ready for burning. It is at times like this when I have a wheel barrow full of logs that I discover the fact that our garden has quite a slope on it. Pushing a barrow full of logs uphill adds to my ”winter of discontent”.

Meanwhile from the big field comes a great plume of smoke as Mrs. Parish has eventually got the fire going. I’m sure she has mystical powers as it seems a combination in the right proportions of sticks, newspaper, some strange liquid and matches is needed to get the fire going. Once alight the flames were quite high and she managed to burn well over half of the brushwood down to a small pile of ashes. Apparently one also needs the right weather conditions. All sounds like witchcraft to me. Anyway we are up for a repeat performance tomorrow. There is just one large pile of brushwood to move but still loads of logs to be split.

I was beginning to think that at least we were past the season of harrying hornets and warring wasps as the weather became colder and these annoying insects disappeared into hibernation. Life is not that simple and the wasps all of a sudden reappeared. We discovered that some wasps have thought it a good idea to hibernate in our woodshed in some of the logs. Now Mrs. Parish brings a day’s supply of logs into the house in the morning and they are stored next the fire so that they can be nice a dry and warm ready to put on the fire. Of course this warming process also warms up any hibernating wasps who then buzz around the living room. Not such clever wasps as they either meet the wrath of Mrs. Parish, who dislikes wasps or if they don’t wake up in time they meet a fiery end.

It is complicated and hard work living this idyllic rural lifestyle and after this week’s discontent I was beginning to wonder where the idyllic bit had gone until this afternoon. It has been a beautiful sunny winter’s day and this afternoon I sat outside on the patio with a cup of tea and surveyed the estate which is looking really nice, with the trees pruned back we now have lovely views through to the surrounding countryside and watched a fox running through the field beyond our big field. It had obviously outsmarted the local hunters again as we could hear them in the far distance. There were loads of birds in the trees. The afternoon sun faded into a glorious sunset and just maybe this could qualify as idyllic. And now I look forward to a lovely fillet mignon of pork cooked (no doubt in mystic fashion) by Mrs. Parish. On the way back to the house I call into the cave to pick up a rather nice bottle of St. Emilion and reflect that life is not too bad although my back is hurting and my legs still feel the effect of the wheel barrowing!!

Life in France is obviously not too bad as our neighbour Peter returned to live in his house again. He had gone back to England for 6 months but was unable to sell his house and so has moved back. He is happy to be here in France. And as I explained to him he had such nice neighbours here (if a little eccentric). Talking of which I have been studying the cows in Loic’s field. Last year there were about 28 bullocks in the field and pretty much all the time they moved around in one big group. Either feeding at the hay feeder, grazing the grass or coming over to have a chat with me. This year there are a similar number but seem much more individualistic and spread themselves around the fields in small groups of maybe 6-10. This maybe the result of my improving use of the French language and my explaining to the cattle about “Liberte, egalite and fraternite” and that they were not just numbers stapled to their ears. Yesterday 6 of them came to watch me stacking logs by their fence and we had a bit of a chat. I am beginning to think that we could rewrite Animal farm where the cows act as a restraint against the counter revolutionary pigs. The trouble is now that the cows hang out in group it may be several weeks before the same cows return to my end of the field so we can resume the discussion.

I thought we had trouble with moles but some friends of ours who are renovating a property near Gorron have a much bigger problem. They have a small lake which means they have a “ragondin” problem. Ragondins are coypu which escaped into the wild in France and have adapted so successfully that most lakes and rivers are infested with them. They bring diseases and out compete local species such as otters. So they are even higher on the most wanted list above moles. Our friends Ian and Sarah have to put out traps for them. Supplied by the Commune’s coypu hunter who gets 40 Euros for each tail. Ian duly put out the traps with fruit in them. Last week he heard a noise after dark and torch in hand went to investigate the traps with some trepidation. He discovered his cat in one of the traps and a moorhen in the other. It is pleasing that others have problems with the wildlife and cats!

As it gets colder, so our cats are more insistent that they should at least for the winter be re-designated as indoor cats. They have managed to renegotiate the amount of indoor time they get and now spend from their tea at 4pm up to 9pm when it is supper time. This means that they usually curl up on the sofas within reach of the wood burner’s heat. This of course means that we have to compete with the cats for sitting space. It is a wonder how much room three cats can take up! In order to make their life even more wonderful Mrs. Parish decided that it would be a good idea to use an old duvet and old cover to make their bed in the lean too shed even more comfortable. They have a purpose built shelf at the back of the shed and this has wooden side to keep out the wind and this has been reinforced by foam insulating blocks that were left over from the building works. Now inside is this rather nice duvet. It is a wonder the cats want to come inside at all.

Christmas approaches and the festive baking has begun. Mrs. Parish made cheese straws, mince pies and sausage rolls. Of course as quality control I have to test them which is great. Also Christmas shopping is great in France as almost every shop will gift wrap your purchase for no extra charge. There must be a Christmas wrapping training centre as they are all so good at it and you get ribbons tied on. It’s fantastic.

It is now time for the filet mignon and the wine so time to stop for this week.

A prochaine