Monday, 12 January 2015

A whistling woman and a crowing hen

She's really gone and done it now. Vinnie the chicken crowed for the first time, to her, well let's admit it, his great surprise. And then he did it again. And again. The crowing is rather hoarse, but he got it right first time.

Vinnie, with his beak full as usual

He's turning into quite a handsome cockerel, with a fine rosy triple comb and wattles, orange eyes, little bumps that will probably develop into spurs, a splendid ruff of neck feathers, and drooping white plumes in his tail. He was quiet while he was in the chicken house, where he does not have enough room to stretch out and give it all he's got.

Vinnie with Blanche.

They love mooching around the hangar, with its earth floor covered in sawdust, gardening compost and eons-old cow manure. In the shade of the hangar roof, the lush grass makes good grazing for them. Blanche has taken on a pale golden colour, from dust bathing on the hangar floor.

Oh shake that thing... Tim's picture of a communal dust bath

They have investigated the plants under cover for the winter, in the case of my poor Clove Pink cuttings and the globe artichokes (left) with extreme prejudice.

Alice is turning into a handsome bird too.

It's not the right time of year to expect them to start producing eggs, but they're getting to be a good size now and we keep on hoping. We really aren't ready for poussins though. We got the chooks as working animals, not pets. Well, that was the intention. The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.

Lots of goodies to be found on a mild winter's day. Vinnie disposed of a huge earthworm in a trice.
He really is rather handsome.

Vinnie now has a growing fan club and is working on his own Facebook page.

Heaven help us.

Friday, 9 January 2015

We mourn

By Ian Renwick after Schultz. "I think my favourite cartoonist would approve the use of his character. #jesuischarlie "

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Chickens on the loose

The last week of December and Tim achieved his aim of clearing and digging "the Maggot" - our pumpkin / courgette / melon / squash bed - before the year end. This involved carting piles of soggy partly-decayed hay to the other end of the potager, where next year's Maggot will be, and giving the cleared ground a first go with the grelinette to loosen the soil and let the frost get in and break it up. This area will become next year's potato beds.

This healthy exercise uncovered a lot of chafer grubs (the larvae of chafer beetle species) and earthworms. We are learning more and more about chickens in general and the behaviour of ours in particular. We have discovered that they love pumpkin seeds, cooked potato, chickweed, bitter cress ... and chafer grubs and earthworms.

Tim makes a mash for the chickens every few days, composed of Grower pellets, vegetable peelings, and the cheapest possible pasta. When Tim handed out the mash on Sunday, he decided to leave the hen run door open. Tentatively the trio took their first steps outside.

Trust no-one

From left to right, meet Vinnie, Blanche and Alice. Vinnie is developing rather fine wattles and comb, and holds his tail high in the classic cockerel posture. He has a fine ruff around his neck which he fluffs out at any possible opportunity.

Vinnie with the vegetation from the Maggot bed in the background. His ruff is visible in this picture.

The trio stretched their wings and had a good flap. As Orpington crosses they are heavy birds and need a good run-up to fly. Alice is very like her brother. They are built a lot like a true Buff Orpington, which should be a burly, solidly-built bird, but show birds of that breed are a uniform golden brown, with no white on them. Back-yard Orpingtons are built much more along Highland Games Champion lines, without the long trailing feathers. Breeding for showing has reduced the egg-laying capacity of the breed, but crosses like our three should be producing by next spring.

Alice. All three birds have white primary feathers (the long feathers of the wing)

Orpingtons have a thick layer of fluffy body feathers which give them the appearance of wearing baggy trousers. It also helps to insulate them against the cold. We have erected a rather gaudy windbreak that we used when we went camping, to provide a little cover from the wind.

No wattles, no prominent comb, a hen bird in harem pants

Finally Blanche, the adventurous one, always out of the run first. When our big tom cat came to investigate the newcomers, Blanche went on the attack, to Baron's surprise. She then made the mistake of turning her back on him before he had completely slunk away. But he withdrew, crestfallen.

Blanche having a good scratch in the compost in search of titbits

Hello! There's something interesting over there....

Girls together

You put your right leg in ... no, Alice, the other right...

One thing they will have to be deterred from doing is picking the buds off the raspberry canes. I'm sure they'd rather have a few raspberries, given the choice, but to a chicken brain, a raspberry bud in the beak now is worth two on the bush.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Roses of 2014

This has been the year when I started to love roses, and two roses in particular have stood out for us. I still consider blue roses to be monsters in their zombie-flesh colours, and  I still haven't time for either scentless roses or fancy orchids. But these two varieties were something special.

This is the second year we've been to Chédigny, the village where the rose is queen, and almost every house has its carefully labelled plants. But it's the first year that we have been to the Chédigny Rose Festival, at the beginning of June, where in spite of all the visitors you can see the roses. Here we discovered Jeanne de Chédigny, a rambling rose named in honour of one of the most respected members of the community, Jeanne Louault. This lady was named as "one of the righteous among the Nations"  alongside her late husband Bernard, and their names were inscribed on the Hill of Remembrance at Yad Vashem in Israel for their courage in protecting two German-Jewish teenage boys in occupied France in 1940. The two boys,  Franz (Francois) and Ernst (Ernest) worked on the Louault family farm for eighteen months, hidden in plain sight. Then someone must have denounced them. When a squad in a German army lorry came to arrest them, Ernst was caught but escaped, and Franz got clean away. The brothers joined the Resistance. When Jeanne's name was suggested for a rose dedicated to Chédigny, the fact that her son was mayor at the time was just a happy coincidence.

Rose "Jeanne de Chédigny"

As for Jeanne de Chédigny the rose, « elle est très simple, avec beaucoup de fleurs, de couleur rose pale, entre le rose et le blanc, comme des fleurs d'églantier », a very simple rose, with a lot of flowers, pale pink in colour, between pink and white, like wild rose flowers. It has plenty of perfume, and scrambles happily over a line of posts at the entrance to the village.

The other rose, appropriately enough, is "Peace". This was blooming in the front garden just over a week ago. We inherited this bush when we bought the house and we have no idea how old it is. Knowing that cold and wet weather was forecast, we picked the last two buds and put them in a vase in the kitchen. This is the result.


And a peaceful New Year to one and all

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the table.... something new comes out and bites you. The latest idea to give a whole new meaning to the term "cheese board" was highlighted in Phillippe Samzun's article "Cheese? It's childs play!" in La Nouvelle République of 15 December 2014. Here's what he said.

A cheese maker from Fondettes has created a board game dedicated to the cheeses of France. A sort of Monopoly in soft cheese for children and adults.

Play and learn! Photograph - La Nouvelle République

Charles de Gaulle used to say that a country possessing 365 different sorts of cheese was by  its very nature ungovernable. Today you can find 1,200 ... how well do you think President Hollande can get away with it?

Cheeses are the speciality of Jean-Louis Bulté. This chap lives in St Maure - which places him already in the lap of destiny - and he runs three creameries at Fondettes, Bléré and Loches. (*) Creameries which, from now on, will be selling a home made board game dedicated "to this jewel in the crown of our national heritage".

In the matter of board games, his wife got there before him. "She's mad about history, and she created Histofoly, and it's now sold at the Chateaux of Chenonceau and Amboise. JTS, a games producer in Joué-les-Tours, encouraged us to do it again."

It must be said that, in this matter, there is what to say and what to do. Expert in AOP (**),  Jean-Louis Bulté is unstoppable on the subject of cheeses with a powdery crust, pressed cheeses cooked and uncooked, soft cheeses with a washed crust, blue cheese, goat cheese and the "petits laits" name given uniquely to Corsican cheeses. The proliferation of brands is a result of the work put in by the dairy industry to try to soften the blows of the economic difficulties they are encountering. This board game results from the same sort of logic.

"It's a game and educational at the same time. The principle is simple. You have to bring together, on one card, a whole family of cheese. The first to have filled their plate is the winner."

Getting there, but not a winner yet.
 Amazingly, the only cheese picture in my photo library -
a St Maure (left)  and a Pouligny soft goats cheese,
both from our neighbours at Pré,
served with love at La Promenade, Le Petit Pressigny in August 2012.
The hole in the St Maure is for the traditional straw.

In total, there are 640 questions, some of which are designed for children, colour cubes, puzzles, stories, with the possibility at the end of the day of becoming unbeatable on the subject of the cheesemaking, maturing, salting processes; an expert in raw milk; a know-it-all about PDOs (***). Aside from which, a player might just end up the possessor of a degree of competence running France!

* La balade des fromages, 6, rue du Général-de-Gaulle, Bléré. La passion des fromages, 9 rue de la République, Fondettes, La crémerie du Château, rue Picois à Loches. 
** Appellation d'origine protégée.
*** Protected Designation of Origin.

The game is for sale for 19.90 € in the three shops.