Tuesday, May 08, 2007

There are times (like now!) when I feel exhausted and overstretched. My day today: up at 5.30am, dress, splash of the face (haven’t shaved for about a week) and a scrub of the ivories and, without a tea (so English) or a coffee / café (so French) I’m off to Christophe’s and Gaëlle’s to try and bag a rabbit. Why? They’ve only just moved into their new (half-renovated) house and have paid a paysagiste a fair amount of money to plant up their garden with shrubs which are now rapidly being eaten by three rabbits. They are likely escapees from the next-door neighbour who, like many country-living French, breed rabbits for eating. Faced with his neighbours’ problem, he quite understandably denied any involvement. However, as head of the local chasse one would think that he is ideally placed to solve their problem with a trap / shotgun. But no: just a Gallic shrug of the shoulder—a non-committal gesture only the French can execute so effectively—and a fairly useless suggestion that they should surround all their shrubs with anti-rabbit netting. Added complications: it’s outside the official hunting season and we’re unsure whether this applies to the rabbits as vermin rather than as game and, don’t forget, the neighbour is the head of the local chasse.

I arrive a touch early to a house in darkness and three rabbits bouncing around nibbling shrubby shoots. I call Christophe on his mobile to avoid waking the whole house up and he arrives five minutes later with ruffled hair, bleary eyes, unshaven … and in his underpants. Gaëlle subsequently arrives somewhat less dishevelled and sweeter smelling and with a breakfast cigarette and battle is joined. I can’t get a clear shot at a distance I feel sure of a clean kill at and there follows a comedy of bouncing, somewhat cute, rabbits and sleepy running around French friends trying to herd them towards me. The rabbits are tantalisingly close but, with a backdrop of a neighbour’s plastic swimming pool, I refrain, conjuring up hilarious images of pulling the trigger instantly followed by its catastrophic watery deflation. Christophe and I retire to battalion HQ for coffee and cake leaving Gaëlle on lookout duty.

Eventually, one rabbit presents itself and I’m able to get very close by creeping inside a shell of a building (more renovation) to the side of their house and, like some latter-day sniper, I get a clean shot and the rabbit drops immediately. The emergence of the neighbour stops all this subterfuge and I return home with a fresh rabbit in time to wake Gabrielle up with a cup of tea. It’s time to move the geese’s electric fence onto fresh grass and that involves measuring out and mowing a square (to stop the electric fence shorting out) hammering in pegs and moving a connecting all the electrics. We then launch all the poultry and set about the rabbit with the aid of a book (we’ve never done this before) a sharp knife and a new cup of tea. Next job: drive down the tip with a vanload of neighbour’s stuff—never alone with a van. Profit from the opportunity to reclaim a solid wood sofa frame (which I’ll recycle into a garden chair for two under our willow arbour) and a pile of cardboard for mulching our recently planted saplings in our wood, give the guy at the tip a bottle of very cheap French Merlot (previously planned for) to say thanks, which he was overtly grateful for, feverishly nodding and winking, whilst theatrically hiding said bottle up his jumper.

Home for breakfast, a beautiful poached egg with a runny yolk on crisp wholemeal toast smothered in salty butter (cholesterol … pah!) another strong coffee (come on, let’s get this heart attack over with soon!) House guests—Tam and Jen, two good friends of Gabrielle’s—wake up. I then cut up 150 (1 metre / yard) cardboard squares to mulch the saplings and, after a quick lunch of rabbit risotto (Gabrielle is the Queen of making an impressive meal out of leftovers) it’s off to the wood with Jen and Tam to mulch the young trees while Gabrielle goes swimming with the local primary school (comprising one class with all ages in it) to help out the single teacher. I’m astonished how different the wood looks in just a few weeks and the saplings are engulfed in knee-high grass. There are some losses but otherwise the saplings are doing well. However, I also planted ten small Christmas trees and I can’t find them. I eventually find six out of the ten, by which time Jen and Tam have finished and we return home.

They go off shopping and it’s time to round up our free-range chickens, only to discover that we’ve lost one of our larger red hens and that makes two losses in a week: a fox, no doubt. I spend some time pacing our land looking for signs of chicken or fox and pondering what we should do to avoid losing the whole lot. I then spend another hour and a half mowing the large field. I walk the geese into their house for bed and examine one of them who seems to have a poorly eye and so it’s back to the bookshelf for some goose health advice. I notice that the gite woodpile is low, so go and chop some wood as we have guests in at the moment and it’s a cool evening. I put an electric plug on an extension lead for neighbour Kysinia who’d chopped the old one off whilst trimming her hedge and finish off the working day by emailing Douglas, a friend who’s very knowledgeable about smallholding, to ask his advice about foxes. Then it’s dinner (thaks again, Gabrielle) and bed … aaarh.