Posted by: Gill | August 28, 2013

Addition to the family

Raffles

Raffles

I’ve always had Jack Russell Terriers, but as the last poor soul shuffled off just before we moved here, and then mum came with her little poodle cross, we never got round to getting another. Over the years though my urge for getting another dog has been getting stronger, with all these lovely chemins around here, and the poodle getting on and not being able to walk far. So, with my birthday coming up, it was time to wheedle away at hubby. He finally caved in, so off to the local SPA we went. I had visions of adopting an old retiree, but none of them really clicked in spite of the fact that I wanted to take them all home – in desperation one of the volunteer staff mentioned a hunt dog puppy.

She showed us the two brothers, both so cute it was hard to decide, but the one that chewed my hair got the vote. As far as I can tell, they’re Griffon Bleu de Gascogne crosses, possibly about 4 months old. What on earth am I doing getting a puppy again – and a scent hound at that! Still, a scent hound could be useful at our age, if we can train him to find all the things we’re constantly losing.

He arrives in 2 days time, so long-suffering hubby has been upgrading the garden fencing, and we’ve puppy-proofed the kitchen as far as possible – how useful having stone floors will be!

raffles lickingIf you’re looking for a dog, please consider your local rescue centre :)

Posted by: Gill | August 5, 2012

Canals past and present

You could possibly guess from my earlier post that canals are one of my loves, and probably one of the things I miss from the UK. I get the impression that the UK canals are horribly crowded now, and like the rest of France, French canals are less populated. My first canal holiday was on the Llangollen canal back in 1969, on a wooden boat that leaked, and of course it rained – you could navigate all the way into Llangollen then, and at the Pontycysllte aqueduct (sorry, didn’t check the spelling) there was an old guy who for a shilling would tell the story of how the aqueduct was built with oxblood and lime and the steel joints sealed with sheep’s wool dipped in boiling sugar. I’ve no idea how true that was, but there must be a semblance of truth. Since then I had annual canal holidays, and two friends that lived on boats which made for extended free holidays as well. My ticked-off list is:

  • Shropshire Union all the way to Ellesmere Port
  • Grand Union
  • Birmingham Canal Navigations (fascinating industrial history)
  • Worcester & Birmingham, Staffs and Worcs
  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Leicester Main Line
  • Ashby
  • Erewash
  • Oxford north and south, and Coventry
  • Trent & Mersey
  • By canoe, Lea & Stort, and Kennet & Avon before restoration

I’m in two minds about canal restoration, partly because they have a magical atmosphere which is lost when they’re restored. My Ex and I used to canoe on the more inaccessible parts, and I remember the Kennet & Avon being clear flowing weedy water with large fish (trout?) and derelict locks – we once helped out with the Devizes to Westminster canoe race with a huge portage in the middle, and I’ve walked along parts of  the Thames & Severn and Wilts & Berks canals, and even the Wendover Arm before that was restored.
Now in France, in possibly the furthest point from any canal, I’m missing them. Our nearest canal is 2 hours drive away, and derelict to boot, we took a drive out there at the weekend. I’d done a fair amount of research and knew where I wanted to go – Canal de Berry in the Cher department.

Aqueduct near Ainay-le-Vieil

La Tranchasse, the aqueduct near Ainay-le-Vieil

The aqueduct was unfortunately built from a variety of sandstone, and as can be seen is in a state of advanced “not holding together too well”. Ainey-le-Vieil also has a chateau that is worth visiting.

There’s a group or two trying to restore this canal, which is not small at 320km, but generally it seems to be in exceptionally good condition, i.e. new lock gates, a bit of water, lovely! Ok, there are a few tennis courts, and fields of hay on the waterway, a few road bridges, filled in channels in a few villages, but nothing insurmountable. Vierzon could be a problem as they’ve built on it there. In Montlucon, the end of the canal arm, it’s unrecoverable. The canal side cottages now sit alongside a main road, but who would want to go into Montlucon anyway?

Slightly north of the aqueduct is Drevant, where they’ve embraced the extinct canal. There are some tiny electric boats for hire, and a lovely but modern canal side bar and restaurant (we didn’t eat there, so no recommendations). A couple of hundred yards up the towpath are some Roman ruins, but unfortunately we didn’t have any time left to visit them (and as for French Tourist Boards – huh?). That’s one thing I love about France – they don’t advertise attractions, so you don’t roll up and find an ice cream van, 20 euros admission etc, on the down side, it’s hard to find anything without extensive research! Another plus point, the towpaths are great for walking/cycling, unless you get people like us in cars driving along the towpaths, ruining their suspension.

Drevant

A canal side bar

Canal de Berry restoration group (in French)

http://www.arecabe.org

Posted by: Gill | June 20, 2012

France v rest of the world (money)

I’d like to say I find the French tax system unbelievable, but I’ve been here 8 years now. One of the problems – the left, middle and far right hands don’t know what the right hand’s doing. If you have your own business, depending on your vocation, you’re assigned to a particular body to “look after you”. Imagine the complications if you want to practice two different vocations? The other problem is, France doesn’t understand how the rest of the world manages.

Auto-entrepreneur

For example, I sell rights to my work on Zazzle and other places, this includes both graphics and photography. Now, for photography (providing you’re not doing certain types of photography), I should be affiliated to AGESSA. Agessa covers Photographers, writers, translators, illustrators, songwriters, choreographers, directors, writers, playwrights, authors of dubbing and subtitling, authors of websites, software authors … (from their website).  Then if you’re a graphic artist, there’s Maison d’artistes (MDA). That’s fine, but I do graphic art with my own photography. WHY does it need a separate governmental department to look after the social needs of different vocations? So, in actual fact, I’m not affiliated to either, but URSSAF. I have no idea if they do the same things, but that’s what URSSAF told me to do and it seems to fit.

I think this all dates back to the time when you were born and raised an engineer, you became an engineer, and were an engineer for the rest of your life, not taking into account swapping countries!

So, they invented auto-entrepreneur, a “simplified” system (an oxymoron in France) of being self-employed. A couple of things they haven’t thought through:

It’s obligatory to produce invoices – but I can’t invoice, I get paid automatically when something sells.

I’m below the TVA limit, I have no idea what would happen if I’m over the threshold have to invoice including TVA (even if I changed regimes, it’s still not invoice-able!)

Trusts

The French don’t understand them, but the government is going to do their best to tax them anyway. The problem is that only the government knows this. It’s not even worth asking at the local tax office which bits you’re supposed to declare, where and to whom.

Pensions

Pension? In a lump sum? Pas possible! Why haven’t you declared a similar amount the following year?

So, I think we just lump all of those into assurance vie.

Going back to the self employment bit, why can’t they understand that by making it easy to run a business, and I don’t mean auto-entrepreneur, that more businesses would start up and they’d rake in loads of taxes if in smaller quantities? Instead, it’s too hard. I don’t know what’ll happen when I have to change from auto to another regime, and consequently pay more in taxes than I earn. What will happen to my earnings? They’ll be mounting up in Paypal, but I won’t be able to afford to claim them. It’s probably more cost effective to tell everyone to stop sending me money and for me claim state aid, and I’m sure that’s not what the government intends. It’s very much a “cut off your nose to spite your face” scenario.

Note to France: stop making it so hard for those who want to conform, and move into the 21st century!

Posted by: Gill | September 8, 2010

Holidays, power cuts, fleas and beer

It’s been ages since I last posted, but it’s all been a bit hectic. We had a great two week holiday, but on the second day our neighbour called to say we’d had a storm and the power had tripped – with two freezers in the cave and two fridges and a freezer in the house, that’s no laughing matter. Our lovely neighbour took one freezer up to his house (probably because it had two of his chickens in it!) along with the contents of the other, but that still left the inaccessible indoor appliances. Two weeks later, arriving home at 7pm, we were met with the smell of putrifying food – just what you need after a days drive. Yes, I know we could have come back earlier but we wanted to put it off as long as possible!

While cleaning out the small freezer, I noticed lots of black flies on my legs (must be the rotting food, I thought). Next morning, my ankles were covered with about 50 bites each – I’m not exaggerating! So, that night was awful – the itching kept me awake, and while awake there was the permanent smell of decaying defrosted chicken and fish. I was in tears as there was no escape from either the smell or the itching.

Next day, a call to where my mother was staying to see if they could keep her for a day or two -  no problem. So, set to work airing the house, recleaning the fridges/freezer, then vacuuming the carpet, spraying lethal anti flea spray everywhere, washing everything that wasn’t fixed down. We’re exhausted we need a holiday!

Anyway it’s all back to normal now, Suzie the flea trap dosed with Advantix is back home, and all seems to be well. By the way, sellotape makes a great flea catcher for your legs – I took great delight in seeing them trapped between two layers of sticky tape *smirk*

So, now to bore you with my holiday snaps (come back!). We’d decided Austria was the place to visit, apparently though, there’s not so much rain a month later. We booked four hotels in advance + one in Czech Republic, they were all great except the hotel from hell, the aptly name Gasthof Karawankenhof which we’ll expand on later.

Firstly we went to the Leutasch valley near Innsbruck. It was pouring with rain, we couldn’t find the hotel, and that was when our neighbour called. We found it eventually though – navigator error (me). A lovely, though modern, hotel, with a charming Belgian proprietor who speaks four languages: Gasthaus Reiterklaus in Unterkirchen. This is worthy of a recommendation – it’s cheap, good food, quiet and friendly, and the owners are making an effort. It’ll be a great place for kids as there is a vast play area under construction.

While there, we visited Kaunertal, like all of Austria, a very pretty valley, so what more can I say?

They have lovely cows with fluffy ears there too

The second hotel was Spertendorf in Kirchberg, again, a lovely hotel with a super terrasse out the back, and for horse-lovers, overlooking a livery yard with some trotters. Perhaps not quite as personal as the first, but we had our own tourist info folder, great food, quiet nights, and more important – good weather! We had a drive up Kitzbuheler horn the next day in sunshine, but I haven’t uploaded the photos yet.
The third hotel was THE hotel to avoid – Karawankenhof, Finkenstein, near the border with Slovenia. More expensive than the other two, the staff more interested in sitting in the bar talking amongst themselves. The hotel looked great on the site, but our room overlooked an unkempt yard. It was quiet, but the food was average to be polite – well cooked but 90% chips. The deciding factor in our hotel from hell rating was the fact that, although they take credit cards, you had to pay for the meal separately – mentioned nowhere. After a trip up two flights of stairs for the unacceptable credit card, we were not best pleased. Nothing to do with taxes eh? A shame, as I’d planned for us to visit Lipica in Slovenia the next day (home of Lipizzaners), but we decided to cut our losses and leave a day earlier. I’m not sure that I didn’t gain a few overnight bites either. They are definitely NOT trying, even the tourist brochures dated back to 2005.
From there we had an unscheduled stop on the Danube before our next stop in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. I’ve been there before and knew it was photogenic, hence the revisit. It’s a Unesco world heritage site. We stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the town – Penzion Onyx. The only pity was that there was no restaurant, but there are plenty to choose from in the old town. The owners, Peter who is British and with a Slovakian wife were away, but Mrs Peter’s sister was there to look after us (sorry, I can’t find surnames!). She convinced us over an evening of wine and beer that Slovakia is our next destination. I would have like the chance to practice my pitiful Czech, but as with all tourist destinations, they speak fluent German and English. (Why is it that when I speak in Czech, they answer me in German?) In summary, Penzion Onyx is a little oasis on the edge of the old town.
The weather wasn’t that kind, but I took loads of photos anyway:

Finally, on the way home, we had an unplanned stay at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, due to an unchangeable flat tyre. What a pretty town this is. Our taxi driver found us the most expensive hotel, but never mind :)

Agricultural shows next!
Oops, I forgot to mention the beer!! Hefe Weizen is my favourite, that’s the cloudy, almost chewy wheat beer in Austria and Germany – plenty of that to be found everywhere.
And if you’re in Czech – Smazeny syr, fried cheese with tartar sauce – my favourite.

Posted by: Gill | July 10, 2010

Back after haymaking

Early summer is always a busy time – haymaking takes up a week just for one cut, so when you have several paddocks, that’s a fair chunk out of your time. I’m not talking air-conditioned tractors, self-levelling cutters and round balers here! We have an old International Harvester 523, an oldish cutter, a tedder given to us by a neighbour, an ancient horse-drawn (but tractor mounted) rake on loan from another neighbour – does the job of raking into rows very well actually, an old but well maintained small square baler and a bargain slightly distorted but very solid wooden trailer with hay ladders that we found by chance. Now, while it’s great to have all these implements, each job means swapping them over on the tractor, unlike the professional farmers who have a tractor for every implement. The tedder also does the job reasonably well, but does tend to throw the hay out into the corners, so you end up with piles of hay in the corners, a large bare patch in the middle of the field, and blisters from raking it back from the edges by hand.

Old horse drawn hay rake

Old horse drawn hay rake

The square baler is our pride and joy – it was our third attempt to buy one. (Two major points when looking for a baler – make sure the cutters work, and make sure you can still buy twine for it – the second one we had on trial worked, but we couldn’t buy spools of twine to fit the canisters!) The make is a Riviere Casalis, and it hasn’t put a foot wrong since we had it. Small bales are so much easier for the smallholder – you can pick one up in each hand, and easily throw them up into haylofts or onto trailers. I can see that if you had a herd of cows and hundreds of hectares, it wouldn’t be much use, but fine for two goats and two ponies, and about two acres of hay, and infinitely better than cutting by scythe/brushcutter and loading the hay loose as we did the first two years! Anyway, never one to miss an opportunity, I grabbed some photos in between blister gathering to add to the growing collection of business cards in my Zazzle shop – perfect for tractor and farm machinery dealers!!

Riviere Casalis square baler

Riviere Casalis square baler

Riviere Casalis small baler

Riviere Casalis small baler

Hay tedder, fanner or spinner

Hay tedder, fanner or spinner

Posted by: Gill | May 19, 2010

An orchid hunting trip

My long suffering agreed that we could make our week’s holiday in May coincide with my renewed enthusiasm for wild orchids, so we went via the Auvergne, Rhône alps, Provence and back to Auvergne in a week (chasing the sunshine – the weather was apalling)

I’ve been researching wild French orchids, and it seems we are in the worst place being in the Creuse, since most orchids like more alkaline soils. Although we have the common Early purple orchid, orchis mascula, and a dactorhilyza that likes acid wet conditions (that’s the Creuse!), there isn’t much else here so it was great to see what’s on offer in the rest of France. Here are some of what we found:

Orchis purpurea (everywhere), dactorylhiza sambucina red and yellow (Cantal), ophrys sphegodes, orchis pallens (Izere),  not orchid related – a gentian, possibly acaulis or angustifolia, and orchis simia (monkey orchid).

Posted by: Gill | May 5, 2010

Snow in May?

What’s the world coming to?

Wisteria in the snow

Posted by: Gill | April 25, 2010

At last, out and about with the camera

I’m having a hard time keeping up with the flowers now, every day there’s something new. Last autumn I bought some corydalis solida (which all rotted incidentally) and scilla bifolia, only to find their siblings fraternising with wood anemones just around the corner.

corydalis, scilla and wood anemones

The insects and lizards are out as well. We have an old stone trough as a garden pond, where the lizards and sparrows come to drink, and some rather interesting insects like to hang out.

Common wall lizard

Pond skater

The display of dandelions here easily equals the yellow rapeseed fields in England. I stopped to take a photo of one, and found this orchid just on the fence line.

Early purple orchid

Visiting some friends, I came across this oil beetle, and also a bright green lizard which wouldn’t sit still for long enough.

Oil beetle - meloe violaceus

Can’t stop! Photos to take.

The flight paths of BA aeroplanes stuck with nowhere to go made gripping viewing last night. I feel a bit anoraky saying this, but we watched flight paths for three hours (not something I normally do) as various planes were trying to get back into Heathrow and Gatwick. I felt much sympathy for the passengers as their flights were delayed, and even more for the pilots who were set in seemingly endless stacks in the middle of nowhere.

Most impressive was this BA flight from Vancouver

We’d already seen a couple of flights diverted to Shannon, but after circling half a dozen times around the Isle of Man and apparently redirected to Ireland, this flight changed direction and headed back to England after reaching the Irish coast, only to have to circle again over Birmingham. After a long haul flight, I imagine that’s the last thing you want to do! In all, that took about three hours – and what a flight path!!

Close runner up was this flight from Lagos which circled about 10 times around the Channel Islands/Cherbourg, the other was a flight from Orlando to Gatwick, which still made some interesting patterns.

Orlando top, Lagos bottom

History in the making! We could tell when Heathrow & Gatwick were given the all clear – it was like opening the gates at a greyhound race. Everyone left their circling paths and converged on London from all directions. I bet Shannon was relieved!

What total chaos!! But you’ve got to wonder at the logic of sending a plane across the Atlantic, not knowing if it’ll have anywhere to land.

Posted by: Gill | March 31, 2010

London-Birmingham rail link

Wow, what a lucky escape!! The preferred proposed route for the new link goes smack bang through the middle of a stable block we put up, about 100 metres from the house! I feel really sorry for the people that bought the house 10 years ago, but what a close shave – If it had happened then, I’d probably still be stuck in the UK! I know many would cry “NIMBY”, but something like that is devastating to individuals all along the route. Probably though, with changing governments and lack of money, it’ll never happen anyway.

We bought a house once that had a road widening scheme planned on it about 10 years previously, that never happened while we were there, and still hasn’t happened to my knowledge 30 years on.

Having said that, we’ll probably find a second Millau is planned 20 metres from our door – you’re not safe anywhere!

Meanwhile, the aforementioned blue iris has flowered, and lovely it was too:

Iris reticulata Katharine Hodgkin

Iris reticulata Katharine Hodgkin

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