Alezane's Diary Archive August 2007
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The day to day life of an ex-racehorse and her companions in Dartmoor UK and Mayenne France
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Hens on the doorstepWednesday 1er Aoǔt 2007
August is supposed to be the time all of France goes on holiday. I don’t now whether it is coincidence but, on this first day, the weather has turned hot and sunny. From the point of view of us horses, too hot and sunny, especially as we cant use our stable until the wall is mended. This means it is back to the old head dipping in the drinker routine to try and escape the flies.

I know I have moaned a lot about the flies on past pages but now, in the height of summer, they really are unbearable. Luckily we are wearing our fly masks but even these only keep the pests out of our eyes. Instead they cover the whole of our face, mask and all and constantly quiver and squirm all over one. HE had tried putting anti fly spray on our faces includ9ng our masks. They just ignore it. HE tried rubbing an anti fly gel over our muzzles and masks. Again it makes no difference at all. The one thing that does help, going into a nice dark, cool place, is not available to us so we are having to just get on with it as best as we can. Just before I leave the subject, just so you know that I am not making a fuss for nothing, our faces are completely black, covered by hundreds of the pests, not just a dozen or so!

THEY went along to try and find out what is happening about the grills on our stable boxes. It has now gone far beyond bearable having been promised the delivery and fixing in five day, then the usual ‘next week; and now a complete silence – not answering phone calls or written messages. Anyway, they went along for a second time only to find no-one there. A neighbour told then that the ferronier is not away on holiday so it is back to square one. SHE wants to cancel the order and maybe buy some ready made grills but the problem will be that they will not fit exactly and they will need fixing. HE is already moaning about repetitive strain injury to his hand from trying to drill holes in the concrete here. It would just be so much better if the ferronier just kept his promises – or even just one of them.

HE did some work on the photos for last month’s diary entry but it is taking longer than he anticipated. HE recons it is something to do with the heat. HE looked outside this afternoon and saw the neighbour’s children having fun by their pool and remembers that when HE was their age, HE also spent all day at the local swimming pool. HE has concluded that not being able to tolerate the heat is just another of the disadvantages of growing old. HE moans about the weather when it is cold or raining and then, when the sun does come along, HE cant go out in it with any pleasure. HE should just stop  moaning and be grateful that HE isn’t plagued by flies as well!

Our broken fenceThursday 2nd August 2007
HE drove past us several times on the quad this morning. We were in the field not too far from the house but HE drove right to the far end of the field. The first time HE went out, we had no idea where HE was going but it wasn’t long before HE was back and then we found out – HE was pulling up all the ragwort on he other side of the electric fence. At least, that was HIS intention. But the reason that HE came back so soon was that HE found about half of the plants just wouldn’t pull and HE came back to get the fork to dig them out. HE told us, however, that HE did have one good idea. When HE had cleared our field last week, HE had bagged up all the plants and brought them back to dry out before burning them. HE now thought ‘why bring them back, why not just let them lie in the taped off section of the field and then burn them in situe when they are dry?’. So, off HE went again and the next time we saw HIM, about an hour and a half later, HE returned dripping with sweat but happy. HE said HE has now cleared a good part of the weed and it should only take maybe another four hours to completely get rid of it. We should have told HIM that we would never eat the stuff anyway but then, why spoil it if it makes HIM happy?

After HE had had a shower, THEY decided to go out, do some shopping and then have lunch out at the Vietnamese restaurant that THEY like in town. THEY should have bought us some more sugar beet but THEY just forgot that although I did notice that THEY didn’t forget to get THEMSELVES some more wine. Humans can be very self centered, you know.

Things with us girls and XT have calmed down a bit now. We do let him come quite close (except at meal times) but the trouble is that half the time we get the feeling that he is laughing at us. We can flatten our ears and bare our teeth at him as much as we like, when we charge at him, he does just enough to get out of our way and then he is back again. I’ve got nothing personal against the old boy you know but I do have to establish law and order in the herd and that means giving the herd leader a bit of respect. And, in all this, do you know who is the winner? The hens! Mims and I leave our feed to chase XT and as soon as we are away from our buckets the hens just descend on them. Wicky is rather pleased as, when we were eating in the stable, he used to have his bucket out on the apron and the hens would just stand at the bucket with him waiting for some feed to drop from his mouth. Now they leave him alone and raid us instead.

Sunny and Uncle TomFriday 3rd August 2007
HE made another foray into the depths of our field to pull up the ragwort. HE was only intending to work for an hour but in the end it was nearly two before the heat forced HIM to call it a day. What HE did find was that, at the taped off edge of our field, it was a real wildlife wonderland. Apart from the ragwort that HE was pulling out, there were scores of self planted oaks, many fruit trees, probably planted some time ago by the previous owner, a sloe (blackthorn) bush in fruit and wildflowers galore. HE almost forgot the hard work entailed in clearing the weed as HE wondered at the glory of the rest.

Wally the builder phoned to say he would be here first thing tomorrow to rebuild our wall but this morning, when HE got up and cam to say good morning, HE found another problem. One of the rails on the post and rail fence had come out. Now, it may have been when we chased XT a bit or it may have been one of us having a bit of a scratch on the fence, as we do. Whatever the apparent cause the real problem was that the fence was not built properly in the first place. HE came out later and took some photos and then emailed them to the guy who employed the person who erected the fence. Later today THEY had a visit from him and he has promised to get it repaired next week.

THEY came out in the field to watch us tonight. It was a lovely evening (apart from the flies) and THEY just stood and watched us as we walked up and down at the bottom of the hill, grazing. THEY did notice that Mims was limping but, when she went up the hill to see THEM, SHE checked over her hoof and could find nothing so SHE thinks it is just a bit of a sprain, probably from larking about with XT. THEY saw for THEMSELVES how, while we were walking calmly along, big X comes trotting past and deliberately provoked Mims into chasing him and turning on him. It was probably one of these turns that hurt her leg.

Tonight was a time when, despite all the little niggles and problems, it all seemed to be coming together. We were grazing in the field, Sunny and Tom were play fighting and rolling about, also in the field, the hens were running in and out of the garden and THEY just wished that THEY had brought a table , a couple of chairs and a bottle of wine so that THEY could just sit and watch us as the sun set. I think THEY are beginning to turn French at last!

Collecting the bales next doorSaturday 4th August 2007
If we thought yesterday was hot, that was because we didn’t know today. And it started very early. HE forced HIMSELF to go out to tackle the last of the ragwort but the trouble is that it is all in the wild part of our field and HE has to wear overalls,  rubber boots and gloves to deal with the brambles and nettles. This is very hot to be in and today HE tried to go without a shirt underneath to stay cool. It worked for the first half an hour and then HE just boiled. But it was a question of continuing and suffering or having to come back again another day so HE stuck at it. Now it is all pulled up and it only remains to wait a few days for it to dry out and then gather all the various piles from around the field and have a glorious bonfire.

We always stay away from HIM while HE is working but somehow XT always manages to be in HIS path when HE drives back on the quad and so gets a couple of mints all to himself.

When HE got back, Wally and his son Carl were there, not actually working but doing what all good British workmen do – drinking tea and chatting. It wasn’t long however before they got down to work. We couldn’t see them as we were standing at the drinker behind the barn but we could hear the machines as they cut the blocks and made the mortar (or muck, as Wally calls it). Considering they had to completely rebuild one wall, tying it in to the existing one and then tie in the top layer on the other wall (that hadn’t fallen down), they made good progress and by two o’clock we had our stables back again. We wont be able to use them until next week though as they have to harden off and them Wally is coming back on Monday afternoon to add some strengthening iron brackets. It’s been a nuisance being shut out during this heat but it will be a good job when it is finished as we know we can scratch our bottoms on the walls as much as we like without them falling down.

HE was feeling a bit sad this morning as HE went shopping and when He went into the greengrocers HE unexpectedly met a neighbour in there and was so surprised (as well as not speaking good French) that HE could hardly say more than hello to her. She is a very nice, kind lady and HE wishes HE could have been more polite and friendly. HE keeps promising HIMSELF that HE will get to learn more of the language ‘when things settle a bit’. I wonder if this is true or just an excuse?

In addition to not learning the language, HE has virtually stopped taking photos except for ones that HE can easily get in the field or garden. HE has hardly used HIS main digital SLR camera at all since coming to France and has not touched HIS expensive movie camera at all. Back in the UK, photos and movies, together with web sites were HIS hobby. HE now doesn’t seem to have time for a hobby and when there is a spare moment, HE is too tired to do anything but doze. HE worries that it is not just that this is a busy time but that HE is just getting old.

Which HE is. But so am I. Old and crotchety. Do you know, this morning a fly bit me and I got so upset that I turned on Mims and offered to kick her. There again, maybe it is just the heat!

SunsetSunday 5th August 2007
And if we thought yesterday was hot ……! HE said it only reached 29 degrees but with your face a black cloud of flies and nowhere to escape, it felt horrendous. HE tells me that the forecast is rain for tomorrow, but not until the afternoon. By the evening, we should be able to go into our stable again but we probably wont use it until Tuesday now.

HE went out on the quad ‘just for a ride’ round our field this morning. HE didn’t need to pull ragwort so HE took HIS camera along instead. The first thing HE found were loads and loads of trees with beech nuts, particularly from the road at the bottom along to the start of our taped off bit. In between were a few very large oaks which were as smothered in acorns as the beech were with nuts.

A bit further along, HE came to a tree that HE found the other day and which has caused HIM so much confusion. Today HE found that there are two of them. They have deep blue fruit which HE first suspected were myrtle, which can also be called blueberries or bilberries. The trouble is that the fruit do not have an ‘eye’ like say a blackcurrant but instead are more like a very small damson. HE also suspected that the tree may be a blackthorn and the fruit a sloe but these bushes (rather than proper trees) do not appear to have any thorns. Whatever, HE will continue to try and find out what they are.

Further along, HE was taking photos of the wilting ragwort HE had pulled when HE found several of the paths through the grass blocked by a large web with a colourful spider in the middle. Having photographed these HE came across a grasshopper sitting on a bramble leaf which HE also took a picture of. Next HE came to the couple of apple trees that HE had noticed yesterday and was in the process of photographing them when he saw a leaf move. This should not be surprising you may think as leaves do move in the wind. But this was no ordinary leaf. It was, in fact, a caterpillar who looked for all the world like an apple leaf right down to the lines in the leaf, the shape and the colour.

On the other hedge, HE found some more, smaller beech nut trees but mainly HE was impressed with the number of blackberries in the hedge. Most were still actually green still but the whole hedge, up to twenty feet high was just covered in them And this goes on for metre after metre, far more than anyone could ever pick or even want to pick. No wonder the place is call St Pierre of the Nests. The birds must have a wonderful time here.

After HE had done HIS little tour, we didn’t see much more of THEM until our supper time. It really was too hot for them but, after our supper, it became too hot in THEIR house too so THEY got into the air conditioned car and went for a drive, just to get cool. This evening, when HE came to take our masks off (usually when it gets dark), HE told me that THEY saw two ponies walking on a very steep hillside through a lot of trees. And, guess what, they hardly had a fly on them! I don’t understand it. It hardly seems fair somehow. Maybe it is because we have cows nearby. Or maybe it’s just something to keep us from being the luckiest horses anywhere!

The bank and the bakersMonday 6th August 2007
And this morning, it rained! What a relief. It was wonderful. We ere out in the night when we could feel the change in the air. It got cooler. It got moister. And then, warm and soft , the rain started. We were grazing and it was wonderful. The world became liquid and kind And the flies disappeared, the breeze played lightly on our faces and we thought of rolling.

I don’t think you humans know about rolling. You stand and watch us and think ‘look, (s)he is getting muddy all over. What a lot of work to get him (her) clean again’. It is nothing to do with being clean or dirty. The nearest I can get to it is when you humans find someone to scratch your back.. When we want to roll it is just like that. Sometimes you get a very good scratch and sometimes it finishes far too soon. Today was a good day for rolling. The rain had just softened the ground enough for it to have some ‘give’, while still having enough tension to allow for a really good scratch.

And what had THEY been doing while we were enjoying the weather? Guess what? Shopping! THEY had to go down to the super market to get our veg as the local vegetable shop was closed for August for the holidays. of course while THEY were there, THEY also bought some gin for human consumption. I think THEY just use the excuse of buying our feed to get what THEY really want.

The afternoon passed in a state of anti climax. There had been a catalogue through the door saying that one can either buy and have the stuff delivered  or you could go and buy at the camion magasin (shop on a lorry) when it came to St Pierre des Nids today between three and six o’clock. HE had decided to get a curly hose pipe and a tarpaulin to cover the haylage in when it arrives and HE went along at three thirty only to find a lot of people waiting and no lorry. HW came back and went out again at about five o’clock only to find no one at all there and, of course, no lorry.

What HE has been doing is to try and sort out all the paperwork that has accumulated since THEY arrived in France in December last. HE made some headway but it is proving harder than HE thought.

 Wally came this evening while HE was trying to make tomatoes and cheese on toast for tea. Finally, we got our stable back and spent a couple of hours, fly-free before going out for our night’s grazing.

Our sloesTuesday 7th August 2007
Did you notice anything odd about yesterday’s diary?  I’ll tell you a secret – too much vino! HE told me that HE wasn’t aware of it HIMSELF until this morning. THEY had a ’demi’ at supper time, that’s 37.5 cl between them. Not a lot maybe but then HE always insists that HIS throat gets dry when HE is typing up my diary, so it is possible that HE may have had a small glass of scotch. And then Wally came in, after he had finished his work for the evening and THEY had to offer him an apero, didn’t they? Who knows what happened for the rest of the evening but this morning, at breakfast bucket time, HE was a bit fragile, shall we say? Maybe it will teach HIM a lesson, we can only hope.

HE spent the bulk of the day working on sorting out HIS ‘office’, in other words the mezzanine area upstairs, over the hall, where his main computer is sited and where he keeps all his records and lots of computer, video and photographic stuff. I think up to now the word stuff has been more accurate than records or office. Since THEIR initial move to Normandy from Dartmoor and then the second move to here, HE has been too busy trying to get everything else sorted out to be able to do more than just open the packing cases and dump everything on the mezzanine. HE did, just, manage to get the big computer working again but only as a place to download and store HIS current photos. All other computing – emails, net surfing, web making and so on has been done on the small lap top.

As far as all the bills, receipts, paper correspondence etc. is concerned, it had all been tossed into one glorious jumble on his desk. But now, at the end of this week, we have some family visiting. The two guest bedrooms needed to have all the boxes, wires and stuff taken away and turned into proper accommodation. One of the handy chest of drawers on the mezzanine, had to be emptied of all its computer debris and put into a guest bedroom for clothes. We will be having a visiting toddler as well so all the electrical wiring scattered over the floor had to be covered and secured. And, of course, the paperwork needed to be sorted and filed properly. This had kept HIM busy for several days but today saw virtually the end of it, give or take a few bits and HIS last major task was to carry several boxes of computer components, leads, etc. down to the sous sol to be stored.

Just as HE was about to have a rest (up and down from the mezzanine to the basement in the heat wears an old chap out), there was a ring on the doorbell and it was the final delivery of the rest of our stable rubber floor tiles. HE spent the next happy hour unloading the pallet that they were delivered on and carrying them to the barn. This may not sound so hard but the tiles are heavy and two at a time are all that can be manageably carried.

We spent the morning in the stable today and it was a merciful release from the flies. My eyes have become very inflamed and oozing pus and SHE was able to clean my face up and bathe my eyes properly a couple of times. Whether it is the flies, the hay dust or an allergy no-one seems to know. The vet did say it would return and it has with a vengeance. THEY are hoping now that we can use our stable again, THEY will be able to get it under control.

And, tonight, it rained!

Neibouring farm (deserted?)Wednesday 8th August
A strange day for us because of the weather. The day broke cool and cloudy with a few spots of rain in the air. After our breakfast buckets, THEY always try to leave us mask free as long as possible and only put them on straight away if the flies are really bad. This morning, THEY were not going to put them on and then, while we were eating, SHE noticed that the flies were starting to go for my bad eyes so on the masks went. But then, THEY decided to let us graze in the field and not put us in the stable until we ask to go in by standing around the gate. Good enough for us, we were off before THEY changed THEIR minds.

Later we saw THEM going off in the car so THEY must have decided that we would be alright out in the field until THEY came back, at least. Well, THEY must have decided to have lunch out because THEY were not back until after two. We didn’t care. The weather was cool and, with our masks, we could tolerate the flies. Then, about three the skies grew black and there was thunder. The next thing we knew, HE was standing by the side gate to the stable calling us in. And probably it was a good thing HE did for we hadn’t been in our boxes for more than ten minutes when the skies opened. We were OK. HE had taken our masks off and we were alright for hay in our racks so we just munched and dozed for the rest of the afternoon.

Just before our supper time, Wally turned up to do some more cementing on the top of our re-built walls. THEY rushed out to wash and medicate my eyes before we were turned out so Wally could get to work. We all hung around as we knew it was bucket time and it wasn’t long before HE arrived with our suppers.

I wasn’t to tell you about our feeds lately. Nothing wrong with the grub. That’s fine. No, it’s the company. For some reason, all four hens have decided to come and share my bucket. When we ate in the stable, they always stood around Wicky’s bucket and gleaned the bits he left. I thought at first, they came to me because I like tipping the contents of my bucket on the floor so that I can pick out the good bits. But even when I don’t tip it, the hens just come and eat out of my bucket. Actually, I don’t mind. When I was at the riding stables, we had hens in the boxes and they used to fly up into the rafters. So, in a way, it brings back memories.

Field spiderThursday 9th August 2007
It was very good of Wally to come and mend our stable but the trouble is we can’t go back in there until the cement is dry. This means spending all day out in the sun again today instead of having a good old doze in the shade.

HE took the opportunity of putting floor tiles in XT’s box as there had only been enough to do about a metre before from the first delivery. HE still hasn’t done it properly as to make them all fit properly, somewhere between seven and thirteen tiles will have to be cut to size in each box. When we were in Devon, I only had six foot by four foot sheets of fairly light rubber matting and this could be cut with a sharp blade. These tiles are much thicker and heavier and of a more dense consistency. The makers recommend cutting them with a hand saw but he has not tried this yet. When HE was making a circular drain hole, as a test, in one tile, HE did try using an electric jig saw but this didn’t work at all. As the blade went up and down the rubber stretched with it and it didn’t cut. HE is next going to test his electric circular saw to just make straight cuts. If this works, HE will probably cut all thirteen tiles in each box but if HE has to resort to a hand saw, it is possible that HE will just fill the edges and not make the tiles go all the way to the front wall. All a question of what the old man can do!

What HE did do was to take up a suggestion of Wally’s and lay the tiles in XT’s box in a staggered fashion. This should help to keep them together when they are all fitted. After that, as we were all out for the day, he spent most of the rest of the morning sweeping and hosing everything down. It seems such a shame really to allow horses in there now that it is so clean. HE says that he doesn’t mind XT as he doesn’t mess in his box but waits till he gets outside while we dirty girls mess all over the place and often do sloppy ones as well. Wicky is another one who only rarely messes in the stable but then, he is never locked in but allowed to go in and out as he chooses as his teeth wont let him eat the hay and he needs the grass outside instead. On the good side, he has such a thick coat that the flies hardly bother him anyway.

So, we horses just moved about the field all day and the only bit of excitement were our two meal times. After HIS lunch, HE usually has a bit of a doze HIMSELF but today, with the family coming for a short visit tomorrow, HE looked at the lawn and decided that it needed cutting. Even with the petrol mower. This takes him over an hour and a half and, in the sun, this is very exhausting. HE worked out that he walks a quite brisk pace behind the machine, probably near to four miles an hour and so this means that HE walks between six to eight miles altogether to cut all the grass back, side and front. When HE did come in HE just collapsed and slept until it was time for our supper.

The hens eat with usFriday 10th August 2007
We had breakfast and then THEY left us alone so we thought we would get away with it this morning. So, we hung about by the drinking trough as usual and then HE came out and called us in. I went because HE called me but when Mims came in she decided that she wouldn’t stay and started to walk out. Then I went mad. Wicky wasn’t here and Mims went so my herd had vanished and I started calling out and panicking. However, HE went round the corner and brought Mims back and then Wick came round as well. By the time HE went and brought XT I didn’t even mind.

I was alright until THEY went out and a new builder came along to mend our fence. I cant explain but I felt something that I couldn’t explain was happening and I didn’t like it. By the time THEY came home I was calling out at the op of my voice. It wasn’t very long before HE came over to let us out but first HE had to clear my eyes out again even though SHE had washed my eyes and put cream into my eyes. HE was a bit surprised that they should be as bad as they were. Anyway, HE let us out and we were free until suppertime.

At about four thirty a car turned up that we didn’t recognise. Brian the builder had gone already saying that the fence would take about four days to be at full strength. When the doors of the car opened it was Abbie with Rachel and Rhys and Abbie’s partner Steve. We thought at first that this was a good thing as we remembered Abbie and Rachel from Ninefields but as it got near to our suppertime, we could see that HE was busy making a barbeque  and our supper seemed to be forgotten. We were disappointed but didn’t ant to show it so we just casually moved off. Then, after about a half an hour, HE arrived with Rachel and our buckets.

After supper, we drifted off as usual and were at the far end of the field when HE drove up on the quad with Rachel as a passenger. I am sure HE was having fun with HIS granddaughter. Whatever, we just ignored HIM and let then just drive past.

Then, this evening, SHE came out with Abbie to see us. The first thing she noticed were some scrapes on my rear legs and a big one on Mims’ behind. Then, worse, SHE found bleeding and some cuts round my vulva (at the back). SHE called HIM out to bring us all back to the stable while she applied some wound powder. However, there was no way to know how it was done so SHE let us out again. Mims went spare. SHE run around, chased XT but only in fun and then just run and bucked for the hell of it that we didn’t have to stay in the stable all night.

I think that THEY will be keeping a closer eye on us in future!

Wall painting at St Pierre des NidsSaturday 11th August 2007
THEY’ve decided that my cuts must have been when I was having a bit of a scratch on a post and I caught some barbed wire. But somehow that doesn’t account for my legs or Mims behind. There is just so much goes on with us horses that you humans do not see. Either at night or even during the day when we go down the hill in the field or round the corner, no-one knows but us what goes on and, to be honest, quite a lot of the time we don’t even know ourselves. We might have a roll on stony ground and pick up a graze that we know nothing about. Or, when we push past each other and scrape our skin on a wall, the hair on our hide might get scraped off but we don’t even feel it. Because THEY cant know either, THEY are filled with worries, even to the extent that someone may be trying to harm us. It may not have much logic but, as much as they boast it, humans don’t really work on logic at all.

So, what happened today? The first noticeable thing was that the cat Tom appeared to go missing when, in fact, he was sulking upstairs in the barn because he wasn’t allowed up on the guest bed as usual. HE tried rubbing citronella on our masks to see if that would reduce the fly numbers but, apart from a nice smell, it made little or no difference. Our visitors were up a lot of the night with the youngster, Rhys, so they lay in this morning and so THEY decided to go to the next door village and pick up the stuff from another mobile shop that THEY couldn’t get when the one didn’t arrive at our village. (does that make sense?) Because THEY don’t know THEIR way round this town, THEY couldn’t find the shop at first but then, just as THEY were going to go home, THEY came across it. We now have a brand new curly hose in our stable and a big tarpaulin to cover the haylage that wont fit into the barn, when it arrives.

On the way home, THEY met Abbie, Steve and Rhys walking to the village. Rachel had stayed at home to look after the house (she said) so later, HE took her for a ride to the village and we met up with the others.

In the evening, 0ur peace was shattered by HER taking Abbie for a ride on the quad bike. XT wanted to go after it in case there were any sweets going but we told him he was wasting his time as SHE never carries any.

Hens at the kitchen windowSunday 12th August 2007
HIS routine every morning, on getting up, is to first feed he cats, then put the kettle on and, while that is boiling, HE goes first to open up the chicken house to let the hens out and then HE comes over to the field to say good morning to us. It is probably the only time in the day when HE doesn’t have any treats with him and we don’t expect any. HE just comes and gives us a stroke and says good morning before going back in to make HIS coffee and HER tea. This morning, when HE came over, Mims and I were standing behind the barn at the water drinker and only XT was standing at the fence. When HE went to give him a pat, HE was horrified to see X’s face completely covered with flies at that time of the morning (6.40 a.m.). When we came over to say hello, HE could see that we were covered as well and HE went straight in and got our masks and put them on. HE also gave those of us who would stand still (me and XT) a good spraying on he legs as that is the other place the flies irritate us most.

There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing this morning as our visitors were leaving early to catch their ferry home. After everything was packed in the car, they came and spent some time with us and the chickens and with Sunny the cat. As usual, Tom kept right out of the way until they had gone.. It was a short visit but the first THEY have had since we have been here. At least it gave HIM the opportunity of doing nothing while they were here. Now they have gone HE will have to get on with fitting our rubber floor tiles properly. I know HE has been putting it off because of the sawing involved but now there is no more excuse.

We were shut in the stable this morning to escape the flies and let out again after lunch. However. THEY left the gate open and we chose to go back in again for the afternoon. We hadn’t been in very long when we heard the sound of a big machine somewhere near and, when we went out to look, we saw that they were cutting the corn in the field behind us that is going to be ours soon. Mims and I just stood and watched as the combine harvester went round and round. What amazed us was that there is already quite a lot of grass that had been growing between the corn. I called the machine a combine harvester but maybe I shouldn’t have as it did not bale the straw as well but just shot it out at the back so I expect, pretty soon, we will have the baler coming round the field making those great big cotton reels of straw. Then, after a time, tractors and trucks will come to take the bales away after which, we are expecting the guy selling the field to sow some grass seed. Then THEY will conclude the purchase of the land but we wont be allowed on it until the grass has taken hold. Still, it’s something to look forward to!

Rhys sprays ...Monday 13th August 2007
SHE wasn’t very well today. It seems to be a recurrence of HER hernia problem. SHE wasn’t able to eat anything as SHE just felt full up and bloated. SHE came out to our breakfast buckets but HE said that HE would manage on HIS own and so SHE went in again. SHE phoned the doctor but the soonest he could see HER was tomorrow at five thirty.

It was another warm day and we ere brought in for the morning. It was probably just as well as HE decided to go round all of our field on the quad bike and spray all of the nettles. HE filled up HIS spray which takes five litres and then, to be on the safe side, HE filled up another five litre container as well. HE drove down to the bottom of the hill first and found several large patches of nettles there. The only way HE could think of covering all of them was to walk a path about one metre from the edge, inside the patch and spray from side to side. This way a swatch of two metres got sprayed with every pass.HE hadn’t gone very far when HE had to top up the spray with the second five litres. When HE finished at the bottom of the hill, HE made his way to the middle of the field, where there is a sort of a ridge, and sprayed all the nettle patches HE could find there. Then HE run out of chemical and had to return to the sous sol to fill up another ten litres of the spray.

This time, HE went round the far end of the field and found a few patches there and then came round the hedge on the way back where there was an enormous nettle patch there. When HE walked through this, the nettles were almost up to his head. It was a good job HE had put HIS coveralls on and gloves so HE was able to go through this lot as well. Again, HE had to refill part the way through and was nearly empty again by the time HE got back to the house. SHE was having a lay down and HE was quite exhausted by the time HE finished and HE had a doze in HIS armchair when HE got back.

In the evening, THEY had been invited for aperitifs by a neighbour and, although SHE still didn’t feel well, THEY decided to go along and come home early. As it happened, SHE brightened up when THEY got there and was a roaring success with Her French and HER ability to talk about almost anything. THEY took along some of the hen’s eggs rather than flowers and had really a nice evening with some very nice people.

When THEY got back, HE came along and took our masks off as we were standing along the fence. It was really a nice change for HIM not to have to come right across the field and down the hill to find us!

... his sister!Tuesday 14th August 2007
SHE was a bit better this morning nd came along for our breakfast buckets. However, now it was Mims’ turn. She has gone lame on us. She has had a few bouts of lameness recently but THEY put it down to a combination of the ground turning dry and hardening up and Mims’ high jinks when she chases XT. Now, however, SHE can feel heat in a foot and thinks that it could well be a case for the vet. I can’t remember the last time Mims had an abscess but it is always possible. I’m afraid I went off with XT and left her standing at the back of the barn for part of the day.

We were kept out of the stable at first as HE decided to have a go and see how HE was going to fit the remaining tiles on our floor. Actually, fitting isn’t the problem but cutting them certainly is. First HE tried the handsaw which was the recommended way of cutting them by the makers. HE managed a cut of about an inch and then just run out of steam. Next, HE tried HIS circular saw. This just went into the tile a fraction and then locked up. A friend had said that an angle grinder would do it so next HE tried this but the rubber just caught on the blade and made the machine stop. Finally, HE resorted to using HIS cutting blade (called in the UK a Stanley Knife) and this did the trick. Actually, it cut the rubber very well but the problem is that the blade only protrudes from the knife an inch or so and the tiles are nearly three inches thick. This meant a series of cuts to get through but, at least, HE was able to do it. HE managed four tiles in just over an hour, about fifteen minutes a tile for both cutting and laying. The long time came about as the walls were not even and after measuring the cut it was found in some cases to still be too big and had to be re-cut again.

The weather started OK this morning but then this afternoon the rain started and by evening it was just plain miserable. HE let us into the stable after HE had finished cutting at lunchtime but then we were out in the rain. SHE went out to the doctor’s and came back with a change in her medication so let’s hope she gets back to the state SHE was in when we moved here!

Les mouchesWednesday 15th August
Not a day we were used to in the UK. Here in France, August 15th is a national holiday. It is actually a religious holiday, the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” but why in a non religious country this should cause the supermarkets to close when other national holidays do not, is one of the mysteries of living here. Holidays and week ends are always a bit of a mystery to THEM. When THEY expect the shops to be closed, they are open yet, at other times, they are shut. Some normal days they are shut or maybe shut in the mornings, other days they do not open until late and on yet other times, they shut for a month of annual holiday. THEY think it will take a lifetime of living here to get the hang of it and, unfortunately, THEY have used up most of THEIR lifetimes already.

Although HE hasn’t used HIS movie camera since we came to France, HE did take a couple of movie shots on HIS little point and shoot camera the other day. The two cats were playing indoors in the sunshine and HE thought it would be nice to record Sunny playing as a kitten. Then HE got the idea of sending a copy to the people who bred Sunny to let them see how she was progressing. The trouble was that the shots were a bit haphazard as it is hard to catch Sunny being still for a minute and so they needed editing. It was then that HE found out that the format that his camera used was the only one that HIS editing software didn’t cater for. HE spent most of yesterday downloading free video converters only to find that either they didn’t work or that the converted format still didn’t register in HIS editor. So, this morning, before doing anything, HE downloaded and tested some software that did work and, although HE had to pay for it, it was quite cheap and worth all the hassle that was saved messing about with the others.

After getting the movie clips converted, HE then came over to the stable and carried on with laying the rubber tiles. XT’s box in now completed and HE has prepared two tiles with embedded drainage grids for my box and Mims. HIS aim is to do one box a day now so that the floor will be completed by the week end. That is, of course, if something else doesn’t crop up. THEY had not been in bed long last night, when THEY heard a cat fight in the front room. There has been a marauding orange tom cat around the place on and off since THEY moved in and he had been seen spraying posts and bushes to mark the territory as his. Last week, there was a fight and HE got out of bed to find that our TOM had chased this tom cat out of our house. He had got in by the same cat door that they use. Last night, HE was just in time to see (and throw a slipper at) the tom cat as he slunk out of the cat door. He had obviously (by the smell) been marking his territory in there as well. HE went back to bed but was aroused about half an hour later by another fight. This time HE could see nothing as our Tom had obviously chased him off. However, in order to get some sleep, HE closed the cat door and went back to bed. The consequences this morning were quite unpleasant as our cats had bee unable to wait to go to the toilet!

Jess according to RhysThursday 16th August 2007
This is an email that HE sent to a friend today:

“Oh dear,
I knew there was a reason why we wanted a boy cat and not a girl cat.
Last week and again yesterday, we were awoken by a cat fight indoors and got up to find that Tom had chased off an intruder, who had come in through the cat door. We assumed that the poor animal (who we had seen - a soft orange coloured chap, miaowing pitifully) was just a very hungry lad, who had come in the cat door for the food which was in bowls near the door. However, Sunny, who is a very audible cat in her own right, had been shouting even more than usual recently, but little did we suspect!

When we had taken Sunny to the vets for her injections against cat flu etc., we had mentioned an operation to neuter her and they had said "we do this at six months". Sunny is four and a half months so we didn't need to worry for a while.
However, when we found her "calling" and her tom cat friend mounting her this morning, we had to decide that our little lady pussy cat was nothing but a French tart and, at four and a half months, was "en chaleur" (in heat) and we needed to do something about it or we would inundated with pretty little kittens in the future.

The local vet has said that they cannot operate until next Thursday at the earliest, .until her heat is over. We are faced with keeping her in and watching her for a week.
I cleaned all the outside of the house, where the tom cat had sprayed, with disinfectant and, at lunch time today,  I thought it was safe to let her out, with HER supervising, while I let the horses out from the barn, where they had been having a bit of a break from the flies.

Then I heard Sunny singing away in the barn and thought she was happy to be out. Next minute, I saw the tom cat, who had been waiting for her upstairs in the barn, and had to whisk her back into the house, while I gave him a taste of the hosepipe.

I feel sorry for her suitor, who is a pretty orange and white and  who seems to be almost sorry for himself. I found him being beaten up by next door's lady cat, Vannille, the other day. It is as though he can’t help himself.

So, we have a week of guarding the honour of our French tart, who doesn't want it guarded. Feel sorry for us, please!”

And HE thought HE had trouble with us mares!

Pretty butterflyFriday 17th August 2007
Just for a moment, some progress on the above story. THEY have now locked the cat door so that the tom cat cannot get in but this also means that our two can’t get out. On the first night when THEY did this, THEY assumed that Sunny and Tom would just wait until the morning for their toilet requirements. How wrong can one be? When HE got up the next morning, there were several large puddles all over the floor as well as areas of obvious spraying where the tom cat had been in. HE set about cleaning these up (fortunately, French living rooms are tiled rather than carpeted so it was not too difficult) and then noticed that the piece of A4 paper, that the doctor gives you when you pay him and then which you send away to get a refund, was not on the table where SHE had left it after HER recent doctors visit, but was laying in the corner on the floor. When HE went to pick it up, HE found that Sunny had used that as a way of covering up a worse mess that she had made. Unless SHE can get a copy that will be an expensive 22 euro toilet adventure to come out of Sunny’s pocket money!

Back to last night. Having learned THEIR lesson, the litter tray has now been replaced indoors at night while the tom is locked out. However, THEIR bedroom is on the ground floor and THEY usually sleep with the windows open. The tom cat came along at several hours of the night to serenade Sunny and HE didn’t get a lot of sleep, getting up and down to shout him away. This morning, when HE got up, Sunny was her normal purry self and over the early part of the morning demonstrated none of the ‘calling’ characteristics of the previous few days. THEY even let her out in the garden, under Tom’s care and they both had a wonderful play fight and run game until they tired themselves out. There has been no sign of the orange and white tom cat today but THEY will take no chances and still lock the cat door overnight until Sunny’s little operation next week.

HE went into the stable, determined to finish the floor of another box. Because THEY had gone shopping for an automatic cat door yesterday, (one which opens when a cat with a special collar tries it but not otherwise) HE had not done anything to the stable floors hen. However, much of HIS time was taken up with lifting and cleaning the tiles that HE had laid as a temporary measure before HE could start on laying and fitting them properly. Because the floor was not exactly clean, HE had to wear, not only overalls but also rubber waterproof over trousers and, by the time HE was half way through, HE was sweating profusely. But, in the end, HE did finish Mims’ box. HE chose to do hers first and not mione as she makes such a mess. She does not settle in a box very well but walks round and round all the time spreading the mess everywhere. HE did come back after lunch though and pick up and clean off all the tillers in my box so that HE will only have to cut and lay them tomorrow. Let us hope HE does get it done as we still have a couple of outside lights on the barn to fix and the grass needs cutting again and … etc ….

Harvesting the field we are going to buySaturday 18th August 2007
… and the ragwort that HE pulled needs burning and the hay net filler needs putting up and …

I wont go on because HE has found a new job to do. Oh, by the way, HE finished my stable box now so we all have posh floors to our boxes. This new job does not involve HIM in any physical hard work. It is much like HE was used to doing when we lived on Dartmoor. That’s right, it’s a computer job. When we were in Devon, all HE had to do for us was to make our daily two buckets each and bring it over to the field and then, sometimes walk me or Mims back and forth from the field to the stable and vice versa. The rest of the time HE had to devote to HIS hobbies of taking photos and videos and making films and web sites. Since HE has been here, those activities have had to take a break (apart from typing my daily page for me). So that HE can get us all settled and organized here.

This afternoon, however, which is when HE normally has a bit of a snooze to get over the lunchtime wine, HE found HE couldn’t sleep and remembered that, some time ago, HE had discovered that nearly all of my diary archives had vanished from the internet. This was a mystery and, like most things to do with computers, THEY attributed it to all sorts of machine breakdowns or website hosts faults when it virtually always is THEIR fault. Anyway, for whatever reason, the archives are no longer on the web but fortunately they are still on HIS computer so the job is to upload them all again.

A while back, HE had started organizing the file naming of the photos that go with the diary as, over the nearly five years that it has been running, HE has used several different types of software and used various naming conventions. What HE has now opted for is a simple year, month, day format so that all the photos will sort easily. So, before HE uploads the lot all over again, HE has been going through each month in turn, copying, renaming and, in some cases, re-sizing until the photos are of a uniform character. HE took a little time off this evening to come, as HE always does, to take our fly masks off when the light goes. Then HE realised that HE had not even found time to type up today’s page so the archives have had to wait until another day.

That is if HE has time after he has done XT’s wall bracket, pruning the fruit trees, cleaning the chicken shed, …. etc ……

Come and look, mum!Sunday 19th August 2007
We know when HE gets up in the morning because, while HIS kettle is boiling (the first thing HE does), HE goes and opens up the chicken house and then comes over to say hello to us horses. Well, this morning, we could only just see HIM. It was not misty, just a very dark cloudy day with no chance for the sun or even the sunlight to come through. And the day followed much the same pattern – miserable with some light rain and some pretty strong breezes. And it was cold, which should have been good news but somehow the flies didn’t know it and flocked around as usual.

I think the bad weather must have kept HIM in today because HE didn’t come to make us go into the stable for a few hours. Three of us didn’t mind much but poor old Wicky was devastated. Since we have been going in the stable, we have hay nets to munch on but Wicky has such few teeth now that he cant manage hay very well. So, what THEY do, is to leave the gate open so that he can go in and out and munch grass if he needs to but also they have been giving him an extra bucket of lucerne to compensate for the hay. It only takes one time to become a habit where food is concerned with Wicky so today he just lined up at the gate to the stable and every time he caught a glimpse of HIM going in or out, Wick would call out to HIM but in vain.

Instead of working in the barn today as HE had intended to, HE spent the day working on the recovery of my Diary archives. I said the other day nearly five years. Well it’s not, it’s only four and a third years, fifty two months to be exact. After today’s efforts HE has recovered four of these months so only forty eight to go. Actually,. It is not as bad as it sounds. The more recent months are not too bad to recover. It is the early ones where HE used some fairly beginner software which is giving HIM trouble. For example, today working on the first full month (May 2003) he found that the copy HE made kept missing out a week’s diary pages in the middle. No matter what HE did, although the pages were there on HIS computer, as soon as HE loaded them up onto the internet, they disappeared. In the end, HE had to take a day out and then re enter it from another bit of software which much have lost whatever was making it jump. HE will never know but was only to pleased and relieved when it finally worked.

So the end of a miserable weather day and a frustrating work day for HIM. It does seem funny that this is August and supposed to be the sunniest month. HE read today that in Greece they have a heat wave and a water shortage. Maybe that is where the weather has gone?

Three of the four hensMonday 20th August 2007
And, as they say, if you thought that was bad! Today started like yesterday, very cold and gloomy but still with hundreds of flies. THEY tried leaving the door to the stable open so that we could come and go as we pleased. Well, that is all except XT. Mims just can’t stop herself from picking on him. If he is in his box, she guards the exit so that he cant go out. However, if we are in first, she guards the entrance so that he has to stand outside.

So, we came in this morning, with HIM giving XT safe passage into his box so that he could at least have some hay. Then the rain started, very gently at first but soon getting heavier and more persistent. So, being horses and liking to be a bit perverse, we all went out. And we stayed out in the rain and didn’t notice how wet and cold we were getting until it was supper time and THEY came with our buckets. At first, THEY didn’t know what to do, feed us outside in the rain or bring us into the stable. However, SHE noticed that I was shivering badly and then SHE saw that Mims was as well so that fixed it. We were all brought into the stable and given our buckets in the dry while THEY got our raincoats and put them on. Then, THEY left us to do what we wanted, leaving all the box doors and the field gate open.

I decided to have a bit of a doze while XT, thinking we were all going out made his escape, only to find that we were staying in and that he couldn’t get back because of Mims. He had to stand outside in the rain until HE, who had seen what was going on through the window of THEIR house, came out and escorted XT into his box. Mims was furious and leapt at him and HE was equally determined and waved the lead rope at her so that she had to back off. However, by bedtime (THEIR’s not ours) we decided to go out again. After all, we had our raincoats on now and had had a real good warm through. Again, THEY have left the field gate open so that we can come back in if we want to. It’s not likely though as the night time is when we do our best fly free grazing.

This morning, before the rain, SHE had asked HIM to pick the mirabelles from the tree in our field. These are little cherry sized plums, yellow with red spots, and sweet if ripe. HE came out with a pair of steps to begin with and this got our interest. Mims particularly wanted to know what HE was up to and what was in it for her. When she found that HE didn’t have any sweets, she decided instead to use him as a scratching post. As HE told HER later, it was quite disconcerting to be up a pair of unsteady steps with a great big horse rubbing up against you. Eventually Mims and I got bored and went away and then XT came up to him to see what was going on. As HE had no mints, HE decided to leave his plum picking for a while and give XT a really good scratch because while Mims and I have each other for mutual grooming, poor old X has no one. When HE had finished and XT went away, HE decided to combine plum picking with pruning the tree as some of the fruit were too high and this is the time of year anyway to prune the trees that have fruit with stones in them. This brought Mims back but when HE offered her a plum, Mims instead decided to eat the leaves of the branches that HE had cut down.

and then the baler cameTuesday 21st August 2007
So THEY left the field gate to the stable open all night and we didn’t go in it once. Well, not until breakfast time, of course. HE was all ready to make the breakfast buckets in the feed room and then bring them out to us in the field. However, we had other ideas. Wouldn’t it be nice to eat in the warm, dry stable we thought. So in we trooped and made THEM change all THEIR plans.

As it was, THEY were having trouble with the weather forecasters who said it was going to rain in the morning and then thunder and lightening in the afternoon. So, before THEY went to town to get our carrots (and, knowing THEM, probably some wine, as well), THEY came out to the stable and put our raincoats on again. This was after the coats had been modified. When SHE bought them, SHE didn’t know that they came with neck covers as well. This meant that if we were being protected from the rain and wind, we also got too hot. SHE got round it yesterday by tucking the neck bits in but, as they had buckles on, this was an uncomfortable arrangement. So, this morning, THEY came out armed with scissors and cut the neck pieces off. Then we had our coats put back on and were left to go out into the rain.

We went out but there was no rain. In fact, when THEY got back from the supermarket, the sun was out and we were too hot even without the neck pieces. So, off the raincoats came again and then we decided to go into the stable anyway to get away from the flies. I think it was then that THEY gave up. HE went back to pruning the fruit trees and managed to decimate one apricot tree and two cherry trees. This year the apricot had just one fruit and one of the cherry trees had just a few. But the other cherry tree had lots of fruit but they were too high to be easily picked and by the time HE was going to get round to it with a ladder, the birds had stolen the lot. Now all three trees are open and easy to treat with anti insect and anti fungus products and are low enough to pick the fruit easily. The problem is that HE thinks that it will be a two year wait before the pruning pays off so maybe there wont be much next year. We should care, we are apple lovers and don’t care anything for cherries or apricots, plums or mirabelles.

The other thing HE is doing is getting on with the archives. HE is not managing the eight a day that HE would like but, t nearer five a day, HE hopes to be finished in another just over a week.

We had another couple of children come to visit us today. They rode by on their bikes while HE was wrecking the fruit trees and started a conversation which HE thinks said that they would like to come and see us. HE called HER to help him as HER French is much, much better than HIS, and then went and got some mints for them to give us. However, only the little boy was brave enough to hold out his hand to our great big mouths. I don’t suppose they knew that as well as not liking cherries, we absolutely hate the taste of human fingers!

Sunny cuddles TomWednesday 22nd August 2007
You know, HE told me that repairing the archives has brought certain things to HIS attention. For example, this morning, HE was working on August 2003, and guess what we were moaning about? That’s it, flies! Nothing changes in four years and two countries. Mind you, when HE was in the baker’s this afternoon, HE made what passes for a joke as far as HE is concerned and said that all this rain and misery is just like and English summer and, if HIS powers of translation are to be believed, the lady answered that, for HIM, this must be ‘comme habitude’ (like normal) then.

HE thought HE had finished pruning the hard stone fruit trees and had just entered the progress up on his tree list when SHE said that one of the trees that HE has as unidentified, is in fact, a plum tree because the previous owner had told HER. One of the main reasons why this tree is unidentified is that all the leaves are grotesquely shriveled up with some fungus or disease. The other is, of course, that it had no fruit on it at all. SHE says that the owner had told HER it was the first to fruit so now HE has one more tree to massacre before HE must wait until November to get at the apple and pears.

HE decided to do some more work in our stable today. First HE needed to tidy up lots of stuff left over from the builders and also the tools that HE had left there that HE no longer needed for stable work. There were also the pieces of floor tiles that were left over after HE had fitted the floor and also about thirteen spare tiles as well, that needed to be put away upstairs in the barn until needed for replacements. Now, I can’t remember ever having mentioned this before but HE has asthma as a result of smoking heavily between the ages of fifteen and fifty five when THEY gave up when SHE was diagnosed with HER heart complaint. Over the years, the doctors in England had worked out a regime involving a preventative puffer taken morning and night. Well, last night and this morning, HE forgot to have HIS puffs  and , when HE was carrying the heavy rubber tiles up the stairs in the barn, it caught up with HIM and HE could hardly breath. Let’s hope this acts as a timely reminder for HIM.

Of course, HE couldn’t start working, which also involved drilling holes in the block work to put things up, until we had gone out this morning. This being able to come and go as we please is really satisfying. HE managed to just get HIS work done before we came back in but, I’m sorry to say, this gave him the opportunity to look down on us from upstairs in the barn and HE went in and told HER how fat we are from that angle. I’m really surprised that HE thinks I am fat. I have to spend every mealtime sharing my bucket with four hens. You know how I love to tip the contents out of my bucket. Well, as soon as I do, these four are on my food like a shot, scratching it all over the place and picking out all the best grain pieces. It’s possible that one day I might accidentally tread on one just to teach them a lesson. Well, OK, I wouldn’t really, but the thought has crossed my mind!

A misty morningThursday 23rd August 2007
This was Sunny’s day today. I doubt whether she would see it like that but it is news, at least.

Normally when HE gets up, HE is greeted by Sunny at the kitchen door and she spends the next few minutes rubbing on HIS legs, telling HIM how she is starving. This morning, it could have been true because, for some strange reason, there had been no food left down overnight, only a bowl of water. But, instead of rushing straight to the cupboard and opening a packet of cat food, instead HE just gave her a stroke and then shut himself out in the hallway where she couldn’t follow.

Then happened the next strange thing. After eating, it is Sunny’s habit to follow HIM out to the chicken house where he opens the window and door so that the hens can get out. Then HE and Sunny next go over to the barn to say good morning to us horses. Instead of that, this morning, HE let HIMSELF out of the front door and did all that by HIMSELF. Sunny tried to follow but found that the cat door was still firmly shut.

There followed a strange period when Sunny found herself completely ignored while THEY had THEIR breakfast and then, as if THEY had relented, SHE went and got a nice wire box for Sunny to play jumping in and out of. However, the fun didn’t last long and the next thing she knew, Sunny was shut in the wire box and carried out to the car. Now, Sunny has been for car rides before and was OK for the distance that she is used to, which is down to the village vets’ surgery. But when the ride got longer, then she started crying out in protest.

Eventually, the journey ended and she found herself in a completely new and bigger vets surgery. And there THEY left her. Before long, someone came and shaved part of her leg and gave her an injection. And that is all she can remember, she told me. The next thing she remembers is waking up with a rather sore and itchy tummy and then drifting in and out of sleep until THEY arrived and put her in the wire box and took her home.

There was one consolation. When she got home, against the vets advice, she was given a little something to eat. And then later, SHE made her a special chicken dish. The other good thing was that Tom was very pleased to see her. He did smell her tummy and comment on how strange she smelled but, apart from that, he was happy to lay and cuddle her while she got over the worst of her tummy ache.

HE told me later that Sunny has had an operation so that she can go out without being bothered by that old orange tom cat that was chasing her around last week. It also means that she wont be having any kittens of her own now and, hen she heard that, Mims was filled with sympathy and said she knows how Sunny must feel. However, I don’t think Sunny feels anything at the moment just hungry as usual.

Big X - hasn't he done well?Friday 24th August 2007
THEY had a minor success today. Let us hope it turns into a major one.

You probably remember that the plan was for each of our boxes in the stable to be separated by a rather pretty metal grill. The idea of this was not just for show but also to give each of us some privacy when having our food but, with a curve at the front allowing us to make contact with each other (for mutual grooming etc.) if we so desired.

SHE had planned this from the very beginning and THEY had researched and found a ferronier (metal worker or blacksmith) in a village not too far away. THEY approached him with plans and drawings and got an estimate for the cost and he said that he would come along and see where the grills would be put when the builder was here. After a few missed promised visits, he did finally come along and measure up after Wally had built the dividing walls and he asked how soon SHE wanted them. SHE said at once and so he said he would be along to install them in eight days. That was two  months ago. Since then THEY have heard nothing of him. THEY have phoned but only got a recording and so left messages. THEY have been to his works but have found no one there. There have left messages in his letter box but nothing. It was as if the man had vanished from the face of the earth.

SHE had found grills of a standard size, available on the internet but these would not be the same as made to measure ones. Also, it was difficult to buy elsewhere without at least canceling the order with this man. So, today, THEY decided to visit his premises one last time and, if he could not be contacted to write to him and cancel. When THEY got there, THEY thought THEY would be lucky as THEY could see that his workshop was open and his pet goats were wandering about. However, no amount of ringing his bell or rattling the gates brought any response so THEY goy in the car and started back home.

Then, just as THEY were leaving his village, THEY run across him coming home in his van. SHE asked him if he was not interested in the work and he said he was but he had been very busy and then had been on holiday. Anyway, the outcome was that he has promised to deliver next Thursday. As I said, it was a small victory. Let us all keep our hooves crossed that he will turn up next week!

St Pierre des NidsSaturday 25th August 2007
We have been in and out of the stable today partly by choice and partly because SHE wanted us in.

THEY had to go out early this morning to take Sunny to have her stitches checked. When THEY fed us before going out, SHE decided it would be good for us to have a quiet time, until THEY came back, just munching hay and dozing in our boxes. That was alright with me and the gang as we have now got a routine of coming in on our own after a long night grazing. HE even caught big X having a bit of a lay down the other day the other morning.

When THEY came back after about an hour, HE came and undid our doors but we were still quite happy to stay in so THEY left us to decide while THEY went of to the shops. This time it was for some ‘cides’ for the trees. HE read about the cides in a French fruit tree book that THEY bought last week. In it, there are many pages with vivid pictures of all the things that can go wrong with fruit trees, at least, in France. Now, many of these, HE recognised are wrong with our fruit trees too. It is generally thought that it has been a bad year for fruit but, when HE looks at the neighbour's trees, it has not been so bad for them as for us. And this is where the cides come in. The book states that what HE needs, at different times in the year, are insecticide, fungicide and acaricide and, in addition, a good dose of copper into the bargain.

The problem was that, when HE got to the shop, HE found that what was on sale was multicides – things that did some of the jobs combined with some other jobs at different times of the year. HE stood there just reading the packets and trying to de-cide until SHE nearly wandered off. HE has come home with enough stuff to start a biological war. If we don’t get enough fruit next year, it wont be for a lack of cides.

And then, the weather changed. We have had weeks of misery and this morning mist and fog but then, this afternoon, the sun came out and it got hot. Lovely if you are on holiday but, for us horses, another good reason to stay in our boxes. HE was lucky that we did decide to go out for about half an hour before super to allow him to move in and give our boxes a real good clean out and wash down.

The only other item of interest today was Wicky turning into a break and enter crook. While HE was making our buckets this morning, Wicky managed to stretch right over the chain, put there to stop Wicky from getting into the feed room. Wick managed to get a good mouthful of what was, luckily his bucket, before HE caught him and moved it out of reach. Then Wick noticed that the feed bin was open and started to stretch his neck to get a mouthful out of a sack. HE then closed the lid on the feed bin but Wick found that he could lift it with his nose. By this time , breakfast was ready so Wick got his bucket and lost interest. However, later this afternoon, while THEY were having a bit of a doze in the heat, THEY were awakened by the sound of the feed bin lid banging shut. THEY looked out of THEIR door to see Wick with his nose again lifting the lid up and down. It was then that HE came over and put the latch on the bin and started to wash down the concrete apron in front of the barn. Wick rushed ut, in case he was in trouble and got hosed down and that was when we all went out too.

HE is working on a new arrangement for making the feed away from the chain!

Alezane and MimsSunday 26th August 2007
Please note the date. August 26th 2007. A really memorable day, particularly for Wicky.

It started as normal except that, as the weather was so mild, suggesting another hot day like yesterday, we didn’t go and wait in our boxes for our breakfast. Instead, SHE had to call us in after big X had given way and trundled home. We had a normal breakfast and afterwards SHE locked us in so we decided that SHE wanted us to have a rest from the flies.

Then, after THEY had finished THEIR breakfast, THEY were back and little Wick was put on a head collar and tied to the fence where we all could see the torture take place. SHE deliberately went over to the hanging hose that HE uses to clean out our buckets with and turned the tap on full. And then SHE started. Right in front of our eyes, Wicky was given a bath. Due to the rather thick nature of his coat and even more due to the very filthy nature of his coat, this process took quite a while. To give him his due, he took it like a ma ... well, like a gelding. That is until she wanted to wash down his legs which made him kick out as if something was biting him. But that wasn’t the worst. She then sprayed his head and Wick really decided that was enough and started running round and round (as much as his leash would let him). Then things calmed down for a while as HE rubbed first one shampoo and then another into Wicks dense coat. By the time HE was finished, HE was exhausted and HIS fingers were covered in white hair. I think it was a relief for him to be hosed down at last as he didn’t make so much fuss this time.

But I did. First this was all happening to one of my herd which, as you know, always worries me a lot. But, worse than that, I was coming to realise that it was my turn next. I didn’t mind my body being hosed down as I was used to this from my racing days. But, I do detest my face being hosed and I must admit to making a bit of a fuss about this. In the end, THEY decided to sponge my face down rather than hose it which I also was not mad keen on but, at least it was bearable.

Mims was next. She had been panicking when she saw what was happening to me but, when it came to her turn, she was rather good as I was standing right next to her all the time. Also HE was sweet talking her and she does have a soft spot for HIM which she developed right at their first meeting at her old home. After Mims was done HE went and got the squeegee and took the bulk of the water out of our coats. Then we were sent out while THEY tackled XT.

I didn’t see it but HE told me that big X was the best of the lot of us. He just stood and was hosed, shampooed, rinsed and squeegeed with hardly a complaint. He always has like being groomed whereas I hate it and I think he must have seen it as another excuse to get THEIR hands all over us.

Then, this was the best bit of the whole day. When I said above that we were sent out, I don’t mean to the field. HE had been looking at the grass around THEIR house for a few days now and thinking that it was overdue for a mow. So, what HE did was to let us all out to eat that lush and wonderful grass. All four of us roamed round and round the house eating non stop until our tummies were full and the flies became unbearable. Then, as HE had left the gate to the stable open, we all trooped back for a glorious doze for the rest of the morning.

Oh, I forgot one thing. While we were back, HE came in and fixed some funny smelling blocks on the wall of our boxes. I’ve not touched mine and I don’t think the others have either. HE said they are supposed to be apple tasting salt but I’d rather have the traditional old white stuff myself.

Wild berriesMonday 27th August 2007
Yesterday, at one of the times when we were in, HE remarked how shiny big X’s coat was. And, now we have all had a bath and you can see it, SHE had to agree it was true. When he first came to us, he was so undernourished or ‘maigre’ as they say here, that SHE put him on a dose of oil and a ration of extra vitamin supplement in his feed. Well, it has certainly paid off. SHE looked at XT and then SHE looked at Mims and I this morning and decided that SHE had to go out and buy us some supplement and oil as well because although we came up clean from the bath, we are not so glowing as the big guy.

The other thing THEY bought was two packets of three blocks of salt licks to replace the apple flavoured ones that THEY bought the other day and that we have completely ignored. However, when HE brought them over to our stable and opened up the packets, HE found that these blocks are not just the plain white salt blocks that we like but some form of added mineral block, the same colour as the apple ones. I will admit that Mims gave one a lick when HE showed it to her but I am sure it was just out of politeness. Not of us are too worried anyway as we do have a great big rolling white salt block outside which we all use anyway.

The only other little bit of news today is that HE went and cut the grass around the house. After the four of us had been walking round it yesterday, you wouldn’t think that it would need it, would you? However, HE thought that it still needed a cut and when HE woke up from HIS after dinner nap, HE forced HIMSELF to go and get the mower and start cutting. One thing HE did remark on when HE had finished. There was not one horse pooh anywhere on the lawn. Of course not. We saved it all up to leave in the stable for HIM to clear up!

Apaloosa (male)Tuesday 28th August 2007
HE is very aware that the end of the month is looming up. It is at about this time of the month that HE starts to panic that HE will not have enough photos to illustrate this months diary. Particularly, HE feels that HE hasn’t really done much photography this month at all. There was the time when the family were here but HE feels HE can only use one of the hundred photos that HE took of THEIR grandson and, apart from that it is just a few of us, the chickens and the cats.

So, this morning, instead of doing any work around the fields or barn, HE decided to go out shopping for bread and some stuff for the fondue burner and, at the same time, take HIS camera with him and go for a little ride round the countryside to see what he could find. And what did HE find? HE found a very spotted appaloosa and her rather fat hafflinger friend. HE had stopped to take some photos of a rather derelict building when HE spotted (no pun) the appaloosa in the middle of a field. HE approached the gate and the mare took a few steps forward and then stopped. HE spoke to her but realised that she probably only spoke French so then HE just made some sort of clucking noises like humans do when they think it is what we horses understand. The mare took a few more steps forward and HE went up to the gate with HIS arms out. Then the appaloosa must have decided HE was no threat and might possibly have an apple or carrot about HIS person so she came right up to him.

HE was just noticing how the mare was just as covered in flies as we get when, down from the hill, this tubby hafflinger comes cantering down the hill and pushes the appaloosa out of the way. Having got their attention HE went to look in the car for some mints or other treats but could find nothing. All HE did find is that is the quickest way to lose a horse’s attention too. While HE tried to give the appaloosa a scratch to ward away the flies, the hafflinger just went away for a roll.

Of course, when HE came home, HE was far too tired to do any work for us so that was the last we saw of HIM until supper time. However, SHE did come over and spent an hour combing all the loose hair out of Wicky’s coat. THEY think THEY should go into the mattress making business now.

and his tubby lady friendWednesday 29th August 2007
This is the person that SHE trusts to look after us! Well, at least HIS activities are limited to feeding and cleaning and doing things about the stable. Nothing, thank goodness to do with our health and welfare. Fortunately SHE keeps those matters to HERSELF.

And why am I going on about HIM now? Do you remember I told you about that appaloosa mare that HE found on HIS travels yesterday? Well, of course HE not only spoke to her and her friend but HE also took photos. Thinking that SHE would be interested, HE copied the photos onto HER computer and, this morning, SHE had a look at them. There was one photo in particular which shows the appaloosa standing sideways on to the camera. And, guess what? There is a bulge under his tummy where no mare would have one. The ‘mare’ is at least a gelding if not a stallion! OK, so it is the kind of thing that us girls notice, but really. If HE cant be trusted to tell a boy from a girl then it is as well that he sticks to sweeping up.

THEY had another go at combing Wicky today but he afro comb that SHE used yesterday seems to have done a really good job and not so much came out this time. His coat has gone from being one deep mass of tight curls to a smooth and silky coat, still thick but soft and straight now. The most THEY got out today was with a wire brush on his rump and, if you do this while Wick is eating, he takes no notice whatsoever.

I have taken to going into the middle box again after Mims started getting upset with big X again. OK so I pull faces and kick my box sides a little but that is just to let him know who is herd leader. And I only do it when the food comes around. At other times we can stand face to face quite comfortably. I will say he has taken to go off on his own quite a bit these days. I think he gets restless when I want to stay in the shade and doze in the daytime. I cant blame him. Mims also gets restless but, as I am her mum, she has to stay with me until I am ready.

The weather has been quite pleasant these last few days, mostly sunny but quite breezy which keeps the heat down and a lot of the flies too. I expect now we are coming to the end of August, there will be quite a few changes both in the weather and in the timing of our meals. I know in the winter we sometimes get supper as early as four o’clock in the afternoon. In the morning, HE used to wait until it was just light. SHE reminded HIM today how HE used to have a torch in the car to help HIM see to unlock the chain on our field gate. That wont be necessary now as THEY will be able to see when we are in and we have lights both inside and outside the stable.

Inside a small forestThursday 30th August 2007
As you humans say, do you want the good news or the bad news? Well, it doesn’t matter really because I am going to give you both.

Today was the day that the ferronier was coming to fix our grills in the stable. THEY didn’t know when today so THEY could only wait and hope. Only THEY started losing hope after a while. Then, in late morning, there was a telephone call and it was the blacksmith calling to say that he wouldn’t  be coming today as he was still making the grills but that he would be along on Saturday morning to fix them up. And that, funnily enough, is the good news. THEY have now reached a point with certain French tradesmen when a phone call to say that they wont make an appointment is considered a step forward. We now have to go through the same waiting game on Saturday but now with more confidence that he will call us if he is not going to make it!

The next bit of news also concerns where THEY have been badly let down by a French firm. In April THEY organized to have THEIR new kitchen oven installed in a new unit and paid 50 euros for someone to just come along and measure up. And that is where it is still at by the end of August. THEY have contacted the firm, a supposedly reputable firm called Lapeyre, many times with the result that ultimately the firm said THEY have to get another artisan to visit and measure up all over again, five months later. Not surprisingly, HE has asked for HIS deposit cheque back and THEY approached a local man who has proved very reliable in the past.

This afternoon. Raymond Foret, who had received THEIR letter, came along and knocked on the door. He took one look at the problem and said ‘no bother’ and that he will come along with an artisan who will give THEM an estimate and get the job done. This has been the longest running outstanding ‘moving in’ job. It is not the only one but, if it and the stable grills get done, all the other jobs will just fall into the background of routine maintenance (and, probably, lose the urgency by lapsing into French time).

To me her front legs are shorter than the back onesFriday 31st August 2007
I don’t think that I have told you about Big X’s latest thing. For the last few days, when we come into the stable in the morning, before breakfast, while THEY are still in bed, Big X follows THEIR example and lays down in his box. Then, when HE goes to open up the chickens and then comes along to say good morning, HE cant find him. A couple of times, HE has just managed to see his ears over the wall as X is laying down but upright, if you see what I mean. But, this morning, HE had to go and put the light on to make sure X was there. Of course. He is up and ready like the rest of us when the buckets come along.

That’s another thing. We have to compete for our buckets with the hens now. As soon as they see HIM coming over from the house with the bags of vegetables that HE has just cut up to put in our feed, the four hens run to beat HIM to the feed bin. HE tries to distract them by getting a scoop of chicken feed from the bin and throwing it out in between the remorques, onto the grass. They do run out to that for a while but as soon as they hear HIM throw our feed into the buckets, they leave the chicken food and come and start to steel our food. It is not unknown for them to perch on the side of the bucket, while HIS back is turned, and then start to gobble up the grain. Even after HE has chased them away, as soon as the buckets are in our boxes, the hens rush in to share with us. Big X usually gets away with just one hen, if that, but Mims and I are in the habit of emptying our buckets on the floor so that we can get to the carrots and apples first. This is the hens first target and often either one of us will have all four hens under our feet, scratching and pecking away.

HE went out to cut the nettles that he had previously sprayed. The spray worked on the grass and weeds all around the nettles and had some effect on the nettles themselves but they didn’t appear to be killed off altogether and HE wanted to make sure that those left standing did not seed and spread it in the wind. There had been two main large areas of nettles, one either side of the field. In addition, near to these two sites there were nettles all along the hedgerow as well. HE had filled his machine up to the brim with fuel but HE only managed to do one of the main clumps and the associated hedgerow before HE ran out of fuel. Mind you, it was just as well as HE ran out of fuel as well. HE was wearing a new set of overalls that HE bought the other day and, on top of that, the weather turned warmer. HE only just managed to get back to the house and headed straight for the shower. The trouble was that, as all HIS clothes were soaked, it took HIM ten minutes, just to get HIS clothes off.

This afternoon was devoted to sorting out which photos to include in this month’s diary. Although HE thought that HE hadn’t taken many pictures this month, it was still a question of what to include and what to eliminate. In the end, as you can see, HE has aimed for a mix of us and our environment – human, animal and the surrounding area.

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