I keep thinking that sooner or later there is going to be a quiet week and I am going to be stuck in front of my computer with nothing to write about. This week was definitely not a quiet week. It started with a bang with an enormous thunder storm all around us but strangely we did not get much rain. The rest of the week has been very warm and when the sun comes out it is very hot.

The weather report is just a device to avoid writing the sad tale of Harry the Hedgehog. I reported last week that Moggie had found a new friend in the form of a small hedgehog. It was also the first hedgehog we had seen since we came to France, so there was excitement all round. Our neighbour, Peter had also seen him and felt the name Harry was appropriate. Not very French but it seemed to fit. Harry was around in the lane between us and Peter for a couple of days when we noticed that he seemed to be struggling. It was also a bit unusual as he was out during the daytime. It appeared that he had a wound on his side, possibly caused by an encounter with Pepito (next door’s dog). Mrs. Parish, who is first aid trained, stepped in and gave him some cat food. This was a difficult task as we had to avoid three cats helping him to eat it. Harry had some of the food. Mrs. Parish even got out the cat antiseptic cream and smeared a bit on the wound. She made sure he had somewhere dry and warm and we hoped for the best. Next morning Mrs. Parish was up early and out to check on her patient. Sadly Harry didn’t make it and we found him dead in the lane. Mrs. Parish organised a decent burial for him in a prized spot in her Potager. Some appropriate words were said over the grave, in memory of our first and only French hedgehog.

Anyway, you have to be a bit tough with animals in France. Together with our friends we are trying to persuade Emile and Yvette to have their farm cat spayed as often when it has kittens the “surplus” are dispatched. Not an easy task to change rural habits. We went to see Emile and Yvette last week and they showed us their newly arrived baby rabbits. Very cute but of course they are not pets but bred for the pot. Our French friend Patrick came round in the week to bring the sheep back to our pasture paddocks. He had taken them away to cut his grass for him and let ours recover. When he had safely got them back in the Paddock he asked us if we would like one of his rabbits. I looked at Mrs. Parish and we put on our French heads and said yes that would be lovely. Mrs. Parish was keen to establish that Patrick would kill, skin and gut the rabbit (and do so not in our sight or hearing!!). Yes he replied he had a batch of rabbits to prepare and it would be ready to cook. Relief passed over Mrs. Parish’s face. The problem with French rabbits is that they are all black and white and look like pets. It would be a lot easier if they were brown and looked like wild rabbit!!

So the sheep are back and looking very relaxed and serene after their little holiday. Patrick thinks he may sell the lambs in a few weeks so we will be able to look forward to another leg of lamb in the freezer. The lambs have grown incredibly quickly and it is now difficult to tell which are the ewes and which the lambs. We are also awaiting the arrival of Nelson and Winston, the two lambs from our friend Alex, who keeps the Alpacas. Thankfully the French don’t eat Alpacas as it would be quite a job to skin and gut them!

We continue our war against the wasps. Mrs. Parish has managed to get rid of the ground nest in her Potager after several cans of wasp death spray. The ones in the roof of my workshop are proving more resistant. It is a complicated task and one that needs military precision. Firstly we have to wait until dusk so that as many wasps are in the nest as possible. The first raid was too early and after my assault loads of wasps turned up to go back into the nest. I then need to get out our longest ladder as the nest is right up on the roof. This then requires me to sneak quietly up the ladder, ensuring that the wasps don’t see me coming. It is more difficult to run away from the top of a ladder! Once at the top of the ladder the spray can must be carefully deployed so that the maximum effect of the spray is delivered to the wasps. Unfortunately there is only a small hole so accuracy is important. So far I have made two dusk raids on the nest and spayed a whole can into the hole. The next morning there are still wasps going in and out. This is either a mutant race of wasps which is immune to the death spray or my aim is not so good. For mankind’s sake I hope it is the latter. So we must get more death spray and once again I will stand against impossible odds to defeat my dangerous foe.

The cats have been relatively quiet and well behaved this week. With the hot weather they have not had too much energy and certainly Moggie and Archie have been off into the fields catching mice. The farmers have been harvesting their wheat and straw and this leaves fields which were previously full of plant cover now totally naked. This is an absolute bonus for all those animals that like to eat mice. In the week I was out watching the wildlife at dusk when a Tawny Owl flew across the orchard to one of our trees with a large mouse in its beak. It had been hunting in the field next to our neighbour Peter where they had been harvesting. That is some mammoth task as well as they need to get the crops in while it is dry and so are working almost round the clock with huge great combine harvesters working until around 2am some days. The fields are now full of bales of straw which the buzzards love as they can sit up on them and also prey on the poor little field mice. The two foxes I see regularly are also out harvesting this little bounty.

So all this has been going on and Archie and Moggie have been out in the fields, occasionally catching a mouse. This morning I got up at around 7-30 am as usual and came down to make Mrs. Parish a cup of tea and also to let the cats in and give them breakfast. At this time of the morning I am a little blurry and didn’t take much notice as the cats marched making a lot of noise.  Despite it being the normal time there is a definite edge of “late again”, “what time do you call this” and “we have been outside all night and are starving”. These are the clear messages that are portrayed in their morning meowing. This morning in between the meows there was a definite sound of squeaking. As it is 7-30 am (what sort of time is that for a retired person to have to get up, my brain is thinking). As my brain is thinking why am I up so early, it is only slowly registering the squeaking noise. Meowing yes, that is usual in the morning but squeaking is not a normal cat sound. What is squeaking a normal sound of??????????........... Oh hell a mouse. 

Luckily Moggie still had the mouse tight between his jaws and had not yet reached the stage of letting the mouse go so he could catch it again. This is his normal practice of playing with his food. Of course this also means that sometimes he loses the prey. In this case it would be lose the mouse under the sideboard or behind the fitted kitchen cupboards. Instinct took over and I rushed around the sofa shouting and waving my arms wildly at Moggie. At this point I was lucky as the other two cats had also reasoned (quicker than me) that squeak equals mouse and had gone to have a look. Moggie was now holding firmly onto His mouse and growling at the other two when this madman comes flying around the sofa.  Moggie bolted for the door and disappeared with his mouse into the shed. Moggie was thinking with his stomach as usual and realised that breakfast was being served so dispensed with playing with his mouse and promptly eat it and was back ready for breakfast in the blinking of an eye.

Just when I had recovered my composure and had settled back to looking forward to a quiet day a huge great lorry comes down the lane and delivers some new neighbours to the fields behind the gite. We went to look and saw around 40 cows and calves being delivered to the field. This was great excitement as we had missed Loic’s cows and I had not had the chance of chatting to cows for some time. After a short while the cows started to move around the field and to start eating the grass. Once they had moved we suddenly saw that stood behind the cows was an enormous great bull! It also then occurred to us that the only thing keeping this mammoth bull in the field was a thin electrified fence!! It is however great to see some cattle back in the fields but they are not quite as friendly as Loic’s bullocks. I have tried speaking to the calves and cows without luck so far. Apart from taking some photos I have steered clear of the bull!! The farmer came into the field this evening and I had a chat with him and said he was brave being in the field with the bull. He was relaxed and explained that it was fine as he was careful and understood about bulls. My admiration for French farmers has increased considerably.

Our new neighbour!!

It is now quite definitely time for a large drink, to toast all my animal friends!!

Bon courage