Sunday, 29 May 2016

Simple Pleasures

So I've been living here in rural Brittany for just over seven weeks, bar a quick four day visit back to the UK, and it feels like a good time to send a postcard. Without pictures. I certainly can't do a "what life's like in the French countryside piece", as I've made no effort whatever to try to live a normal working, socialising life. My bad; I know this is just for a short time, till I have to go back to work.

What I have done, however, is spend a lot of time outside, riding (not enough yet), walking the dog (about right), and sorting the garden (more than I expected). I've not really sought Nature, but it seems to have found me anyway. The things I'm about to describe make it sound like sort of bucolic heaven here. It's not - we live adjacent to two working farms, with all their attendant doings (pig smells when the wind's in the wrong direction, tractors past the front window, and an arrogant French farmer [the other one's very nice]).

However, that hasn't hindered....

...this part of central Brittany feeling like the deepest jungle the last couple of nights; as dusk has approached (which is about 10.30 here at the moment), thick banks of cloud and mist have rolled in, keeping the night time temperature high and the humidity higher. Combine that with the crickets that have already fired up their nocturnal chirruping, and well, it just doesn't feel like here...

...bumping into a black mink this morning on my and muttley's morning meanderings. Daft thing ran down the road to greet us like long lost pals, not realising that I was risking a dislocated shoulder saving the damn thing's life (yes, the dog went mental on his lead). I've seen white mink round here before, but never a black one, which is Quite Interesting (to me, if no-one else)...

...watching a pied wagtail hop to within 30 centimetres of the nose of a very asleep dog on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon. It was on its own, with its mates still in the trees. It was like they'd said "go on, dare you, see how close you can get before he wakes up and chases you". Which he did of course, but didn't come within a mile of laying a glove on his feathered friend

...being treated to a fine display avian acrobatics the other night as the sun set. Now this was special; as the sun was disappearing over the horizon a squadron of swifts seemed to be practising their low level flying manoeuvres in the field at the end of the garden. The barley in the field is still green, but it's got its distinctive ears, and the swifts were just grazing them with their wingtips, before they swooped up and back down, ad nauseum. Brilliant.

Hares, kestrels and, a bit more prosaically, cows all feature regularly on our outings, and Mrs M claims to have seen a red squirrel too. But then she has been drinking quite a lot of Prosecco. If you think, however, I'm turning into some bumpkin who'll be forecasting the weather next based on which way the vetch is lying, think again - I was in Manchester a week ago yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was quite a lot of wildlife there too, and not all of it aboard the England football team coach that we saluted as we sat drinking Belgian beer in the Northern Quarter. But all that's a different story...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

If you think you can, or if you think you can't.....

....you're right. I've no idea who came up with that bit of sagacity originally - I think I heard it first back in the mists of time on one of those irritating "developmental" courses you go on at work - but it does have the merit of having a grain of truth to it.

Until the last couple of weeks for example I had no idea I could do woodwork on the hard shoulder of a motorway. This wasn't by choice, should that need pointing out. 

I'd bobbed down to Brico Depot to pick up some timber (among other things), to replace some that's rotting round the borders in the veg plot. It only came in lengths of 4 metres. No worries, thought I, I'll tie it on the wooden frame of my trailer, which is 2 meters long, and the other 2 meters can extend above the back of my car. Up to 30 mph, this worked just fine. At 60mph however, my planks were generating so much lift I thought I was going to have to call French Air Traffic Control (it was one of the rare days they weren't on strike), to let them know that a BMW estate and trailer would shortly be ascending to 15,000 feet.

It was at this point that I realised I'd been a plank about my planks, aided considerably by some helpful hand gestures and pulled faces from fellow motorway travellers. So about 100 meters before a viaduct known for its crosswinds where things could have become even more, ahem, interesting, I pulled in to the side of the road to improve the safety of my load, as it were.

I had, in a miraculous act of foresight, popped a saw in the car before I left, which meant that the obvious solution was to saw the damn planks down to a more reasonable size. Eight of them, in fact. I - rather coolly I thought - remembered to don my hi-viz jacket so as not to unnecessarily attract the attention of the Gendarmarie, as I got to work measuring and sawing for 15 minutes. Though to be fair a man in a British-registered car doing woodwork on the hard shoulder may have caused them to glance twice, had it not been a day when they were otherwise occupied policing a strike by some other part of the French civil service. (The farmers are done for this year. They've had their smoky, smelly motorway protests during the winter so they can focus now on the things they need to do to get the juicy CAP payments rolling it).

So there we are. It all turned out OK in the end. If you'd have asked me on Thursday morning whether it was feasible to untie eight planks from a trailer that were secured by a series of ridiculous homemade knots, measure and cut them perfectly to size while traffic passed a couple of metres away at 60 mph, and not feel particularly flustered, I'd have said you were joking. But I thought I could, etc.....
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