Everyone who comes to France is, I suspect, like me amused and intrigued at the French name for a dustbin as a “Poubelle”.  It has connotations of the word poo. Perhaps it means “beautiful smell”. In fact, it is not a translatable word as the humble French dustbin is named after the civil servant who first introduced the idea of a container to collect household rubbish. It was named after Eugene Poubelle.

Poubelle was born in Caen. He studied to become a lawyer and obtained a PhD. He taught at universities in Caen, Grenoble and Toulouse before being made prefect, or government representative and regional administrator and after a successful career was from 1883 to 1896, prefect for the Seine département.

Prefect of the Seine was a very powerful position, and the prefect effectively exercised in Paris the powers that the elected mayor would have had in other French cities. On 7 March 1884 Poubelle decreed that owners of buildings must provide their residents with three covered containers of 40 to 120 litres to hold household refuse. Just to show how much ahead of his time he was he also wanted the rubbish sorted! The refuse was to be sorted into compostable items, paper and cloth, and crockery and shells.

The population of Paris, close to two million, needed a system to empty the containers regularly. Parisians began to name their boxes after Poubelle, a habit encouraged by the newspaper Le Figaro, which called them Boîtes Poubelle. 

The boxes met resistance, owners of buildings resenting the cost of providing and supervising the bins, and traditional rag-and-bone men, the chiffonniers, seeing a threat to their living. The boxes deteriorated but the principles of what Poubelle established survived. But not until the end of the Second World War did dustbins and their collection by municipalities become common. By then poubelle as a noun had been established, and was first recognized by a supplement of the Grand Dictionnaire Universel du 19ème Siècle in 1890.

Poubelle also campaigned successfully for direct drainage. A resurgence of cholera in 1892 led to his decreeing in 1894 that all buildings were to be connected direct to the sewers at the expense of the building's owner.

We are now into the bat season here at La Godefrere. With the weather now settled into warm to very warm we are seeing more and more of our bats out at dusk. They roost in trees and can be seen flying around our orchard trees catching moths in flight. Their flying skills are amazing and guided by their echo location system they fly around you, even seeming to fly straight at your head. There is no need to duck as they know you are there and veer off at the last minute. It is also good to stand in the lane leading to the sheep paddock as the bats fly up and down. To such a degree that we call it bat alley.

Of course, I have had the bat detector out to track them leading to the call that the “Batman Returns!”. The frequency shown on the detector seems to confirm that we have a colony of pipistrelle bats and no others.

We do however have plenty of ants in the ant experience in the corner of the big hay field. I have been checking on the ants and they seem fine. The warmer weather has led to much more activity and the nest has grown considerably over the past couple of months.

The wood ant’s nest is a marvel of insect construction and contains up to 250,000 individual ants. Wood ant mounds vary tremendously in size and shape. What you can see above ground is at least mirrored (and sometimes bigger) underground. Internally the nest contains a series of tunnels and chambers. The chambers contain the queen and brood, food stores, even a graveyard. Tunnel entrances can be opened or close to maintain optimal temperature and moisture.

On the surface, the “thatch” is made of organic materials including pine needles, small twigs, moss, heather, dried grass and even pieces of lichen. The thatch is made in such a way that it intercepts the sun’s rays at right angles, acting like a solar panel to raise the temperature of the nest above that of its' surroundings. This is especially important early in the season when the ants are warming up to begin foraging. Temperature is crucial for brood development; workers will move the brood around the nest in order to provide them with the optimal temperatures for growth, sometimes bringing them onto the surface of the nest for an extra boost of warmth from the sun. The thatch also acts as an umbrella with each piece laid in a precise manner so that rain water trickles away from the nest, keeping it dry.

So, you can see that wood ants are pretty smart creatures and fascinating to watch them at work. The ant experience is also a popular attraction with visitors to the gite, especially the small ones.

Two small gite visitors study the ants

The grass on our hay field is really growing now and it should be another month before it is cut for hay. At the moment, it is full of oxeye daisies and looks fantastic. The cutting will be done by some friends Andy and Julie and they keep half of the money generated and we get half. Money for watching the grass grow, not bad.

The hay field full of oxeye daisies

I haven’t mentioned the moles lately but they are testing our patience again. For some time, we saw no activity in the garden but in recent weeks they have returned but just under one tree in the orchard. Every day a mole hill appears, just the one and this then becomes a focus for the hens who use the pile of fried earth for dust baths. Maybe there is some secret agreement between the hens and moles. At the moment Mrs. Parish is monitoring the position. I am of course singing to them when cutting the grass. Mrs. Parish may decide to take more decisive action!

Finally, in this sort of round up of outside things is the nature trail around the big field. This is now looking good as the grass paths are now well managed and cut frequently. The latest work was on the big bramble patch next to the big tree which we cleared at the beginning of the year. There is now a fledgling path through the oak trees that can be seen now the brambles are gone. The bare earth is now looking greener as plants start to recolonise where there were brambles and as well we have planted some wild flowers. This whole area looks completely different and will progress further once things have grown. Now, we have to cut back regularly to keep the brambles and nettles from returning.

No brambles and now the trees can be seen

We are off out in a moment to go to a Plant Swap and barbecue. I quip that I wonder what Mrs. Parish could swap me for. The look suggests that it may not be a clever idea to joke about this! I am more concerned to establish whether there will be wine served or do we need to take our own? This is rural France and there is sure to be some sort of protocol!

A la prochaine