So this past week spring has returned and the misery and rain of the previous week has been forgotten. This week the sun shone and it has been gloriously warm. This has of course meant that also the grass keeps on growing and needs cutting. The positive side of this is that means tractor time for me and hell on wheels for the moles! To be fair the moles have mostly been abiding by the boundaries established under the peace treaty. There have been occasional skirmishes as one or two rogue moles enter the exclusion zone. They are met with our now well honed pincer rapid response strategy. Mrs. Parish of our crack assault team goes out with her traps while I go for the loud noise of the tractor accompanied by my singing. So far we have managed to quickly repel any incursions.

The warm weather has meant that spring is really starting to kick into action. Last week when we were visited by the French students there were barely three ants at the ant experience. The rest of the ants were underground trying to keep warm. This week a visit to the ant experience reveals thousands of ants all up and working like......., well like ants. They have been moving lots of bits of stick to rebuild and insulate the nest and have now started to establish supply routes out from the nest. So now we have lines of ants going back and forth carrying great big sticks along and back to the nest. They have built a huge pile of sticks to fill in a big hole in the nest, by blocking and unblocking holes the ants can regulate the temperature in the middle of the nest where the queen and nurseries are. Ants are very clever!

The warm weather has also heralded the emergence of our local bats that have come out of hibernation and are now doing their amazing aerial displays as they hunt down and catch insects in flight. Walking around our garden and orchard as dusk falls is quite fascinating. The bats come out as the sun drops over the horizon and they fly around the trees and into the lane next to our house. Dusk also brings other activity and most nights you can see roe deer in the fields that surround us. In the next field last night I saw a doe with two fawns feeding the other side of the stream at the bottom of the big field. The fox can also be seen most nights and there appears to be a pair of foxes that live nearby as I have sometimes seen two foxes together in the field. We usually see hares as well although I have not yet seen them so far this year. There is also a pair of little owls who seem to be nesting in the same tree as last year and once they have young to feed they will become much more noisy and active.

Walking and working around the grounds and in the big field reveals the increasing number of spring migrant birds. We have had redstarts, black redstarts for a couple of weeks and in the past week we have seen willow warblers and a blackcap in the trees beside the winter stream at the bottom of the big field. Trees are starting to get leaves and there is a green tinge around. We have loads of primroses and other flowers and shrubs beginning to bloom. This has also started to bring out the butterflies and we have seen speckled woods, peacocks and brimstones flitting about the place. The cats also quite like spring as it means they have somewhere warm outside and they can be more adventurous in the garden.

The fine weather has meant that we have spent most of last week outside working. In particular we have now cut through a large bramble patch at the bottom of the big field and created a path through. Cutting back has also enabled us to clear away great big brambles from about 10 small oak trees that were hidden beneath the bramble patch. Clearing this away has meant that we can now see and appreciate these lovely trees. Of course there is always a down side to fighting nature as it seems to want to fight back. It is amazing how often you pick up a long bramble branch (with heavily reinforced gloves as some of the thorns are huge and very sharp) and find it is stuck. So naturally you give a hard pull to free it and then realise that the reason it was stuck is that it has curled itself around your leg or arm (and sometimes neck). After an hour or two fighting brambles we are a mass of cuts and scratches. Often the extent is only revealed when you get in the shower and feel the sting as hot water hits the scratch. 

Speckled wood butterfly

The other problem is what to do with all the bits we have cut off. Mrs. Parish likes a bonfire and now that I have my lovely trailer to go with my tractor I can transport the cuttings to be burnt. The weather has been so dry that the fire took off immediately and soon we had a roaring bonfire. I came back about 10 minutes later having collected more stuff to find Mrs. Parish desperately rushing around lots of little fires around the bonfire where very dry grass had caught alight.  Soon the two of us were doing a very weird sort of fire dance around the bonfire as we jumped up and down to put out the small fires and progressed in a circular fashion around the fire. Once again our neighbours would be wondering about the eccentric English couple. Anyway the fire was soon made safe and Mrs. Parish sat on guard until we were sure the fire had died down.

What is it with the French and tripe? Tripe is basically the stomach lining of a farm animal cooked in a stew.  It doesn’t sound great and it doesn’t look great. It consists of lots of pipey bits and lots of foamy bits and is pretty disgusting all round. Yet the French love it. We went with our friends Emile and Yvette to the latest in our series of village repas or lunch time communal meals. This time it was at Herce a little village on the way to Fougeres. The meal was in support of a village fete and took place in various buildings around the village hall. The meal was so popular that we were in what can best be described as a large mouldy shed. But the atmosphere was great as there were about 300 people crammed in and all having a good time. The local mayor came round and shook hands with every one as did the local regional deputy. There was a great deal of kissing and chinking of glasses of wine and the accompanying “bonne santé” (good health).

The choice of food was between tripe and a grilled chop. All the English people chose the chop. Emile had the tripe like a good Frenchman should. It looked very weird as a sort of stew with stomachy bits in it. Usually at meals you wish you had ordered what other people had once served. Not tripe!! On the next table to us where some lads of around 18-20. Two of them passed out during the meal.  Their mates proceeded to put wine bottles on their heads and cups over their ears, while everyone, including me took photos for social media no doubt!! The effect of tripe we wondered or just alcohol? The meal was a great success and such a fun and enjoyable atmosphere. The food wasn’t brilliant but that didn’t matter. Here was a whole community coming together for a meal and a good time. It was great although I am far from convinced about tripe. Why would anyone want to eat the stomach lining of any sort of farm animal? Mind you the French do have a policy of eating everything from an animal, which I suppose makes some sort of sense.

At the repas, young lads struck down by tripe!

You will I am sure have heard of the “iron law of oligarchy” which states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic ( the rule by an elite few)  tendencies, thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations. Particularly relevant with a general election going on in Britain. However I want to refer to the “iron law of cardboard” which states that all forms of disposal of cardboard will be useless as the empty space will develop cardboard tendencies and the next day new cardboard will arrive making the absence of cardboard a theoretical impossibility. Just last week we went to the local refuse tip to get rid of all our cardboard which had arrived with various items through the post and from purchases. So we had no cardboard at all for 24 hours and then with the post came some books from Amazon, covered in card board. Then came a delivery of some new outside lounging chairs encased in great swathes of cardboard. Now once again we have huge quantities of cardboard. But we know as soon as we take this lot to the tip more cardboard will arrive inevitably within 24 hours.

More evidence of spring today as Patrique arrived with another ewe and two lambs. We now have three ewes and 6 lambs in our paddock. They are now happily grazing and the lambs are doing a bit of frolicking in the evening sunshine.

I think a little white wine sat out in the sun is called for to celebrate the wonders of spring.

Bon printemps