Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Newsletter 2011

The Farm

The year started very cold, all the water frozen and snow to shovel away before going into the house. Olivier, a patissier who came as a stagier to learn about draught work with horses turned up with his girlfriend to make bread in the old oven. The enormous ovens (2meter Olivier managed to crawl right in to clean it) were used a hundred years ago as the French equivalent of Water holes in Africa, where local people would bring their bread to cook, meet discuss the gossip and arrange marriages. It turns out that after removing the chimney we had fitted to a stove, the next difficulty was to ensure that the oven was the right temperature at the same time as the bread was risen… since it was a question of lighting a fire in the oven and leaving to burn for at least 24 hours, this was no mean feat… But Olivier got it right, and lots of loaves of splendid long crusty breads of different sorts were pulled out, consumed and stored.

The next winter problem was sanglier (wild boars) in the garden, at least one family found their way in under the special thick wire netting and had a feast every night, consuming all the parsnips and the remaining green vegs. This meant days of cutting pegs and bashing them in everywhere, keeping the gates shut and putting up with frustrated pigs digging up other areas when they could not get through the fence… but finally, by the time the spring came, and there was plenty more to eat elsewhere, we managed to discourage them. Once or twice Chris and Jake, if he was with us, would stump about at night with a gun and let it off at random, but I don’t think it had any effect on the wiley pigs!

Neighbours Christiane & Johann, local journalists, wrote articles for the Cretois on the farm, and La Tribune on the elephant & teaching academy which attracted some attention.

During the early spring we had a US family straight from a city came to stay for a month or two, and seem to have enjoyed their stay, particularly learning about animals, in fact during the year we must have had about 70 visitors of one sort and another who mainly have city backgrounds, and who have mostly learnt a lot from our four legged friends of how to think of the world “autrement”. We hope it enriches their lives, it is one of our rewards anyway.

We found an ancient reaper binder advertised for sale, and visited an old peasant high in the mountains. It has been sitting in a barn since 1950, lovingly greased occasionally and the canvas carefully rapped up in the rafters. After being shown around the garden and old farm buildings, drinking small strong cups of coffee, eating various goodies and debating prices, we bought it to harvest our crops we had not yet planted!...
But all turned out well as the wheat and the oats did grow, the machine was collected, repaired where necessary by Chris, and actually functioned! With a jolly bunch of wwoofers, painting and oiling, during hot sunny days, the sheaves were made and stooked. Later bought in, and with another bunch of wwoofers , and stagiers, we took the sheaves down to Bourdeaux on the day of the mediaeval festival, and a combine thrashed it …. Of course it all cost much more than buying the flour, but think how many more vitamins one must get, never mind the helpful exercise! Anyway the bread is good, and the porridge very distinctive; and we got to visit the mediaval festival, and watch some of our English Class friends teaching archery, and dressing up.

It is December now, we have had a sunny mild November, the dramatic colours have gone, and we are gently slipping into winter greys, and soon whites I am sure. One thing we are gradually organising, is someone to come and help on the farm and when they know how, take it over so we can leave it more easily; we will see.

Activities & family

A rather French occasion was an outdoor concert in the Foret de Saou, just next to the ruins of a chateau (there is something fishie about this, it seems to have been something to do with Nazi sympathizers, but may have got it wrong), we all arrived just in time and wandered over to the chairs placed in and around the trees, looking towards a platform on which the orchestra were playing away like mad… the problem was it was raining! It continued to rain, and eventually, even with the help of umbrellas and oil skins, it was considered bad news for the instruments and the orchestra took shelter in a shed, while one fiddlist continued to entertain us with Irish gigs, jumping about on the stage followed ineptly by someone carrying an umbrella and a pretty girl with a yellow oil skin, before we scuttled off to eat slightly soggy tartines and bump into friends with dripping coiffeurs and big smiles.

Sadly, and unexpectedly my sister Shelagh, an internationally acclaimed artist, died in March after a few days in hospital. Her friend and ex husband Pat organized a very memorable funeral, which I think she would have been proud of, ending with another friend and artist with whom she had often worked blowing gold dust over her coffin, symboilizing her frequent use of gold dust to artistically outline some of natures glories. A month later he arranged a celebration of her life in her studio. She is sorely missed, I very much enjoyed my frequent but brief overnights with her talking, drinking and eating in London before catching a cheap flight back. They allowed me to get to know her much better. We intend to sponsor an artist to do a natural sculpture on the farm in her memory, and hope that she would approve.

Grand daughter Ella came to stay with a friend for a few days after singing in a concert with the National Youth Choir, Pip has built himself a workshop & lazing room on his patch of land in Devon and awaits the fruit trees to grow, Sam is very busy working for Sky TV & still seems to cover wars, Jake is finishing his M.Sc on renewable energy & looking after his daughter Immie part time. Chris’s mother Kay is living with his brother & family in Norfolk whose outdoor organic pigs were recently visited by Prince Charles. Kay talking and moving much better, it is grand that she can be with some of the family, well done Meg for nursing her.

Roger, (brother in law) came to look after the farm when we were away in UK, and all went well. He and a wwoofer from Italy spend many hours walking around the farm looking for the sheep which one of the canine street children from Sicily had chased off. However, on returning one glance through the binoculars located them nearly at the top of the cliffs, they’ll be Ok there until it snows, then we hope they will come down by themselves… it looks a bit of a tricky track to go and get them!

Chris flew to England with our English class with who we had arranged a 5 day visit to England in the name of ‘entente codiale’ ( 11 in all). We all met up in a very British pub in Richmond to celebrate Jakes birthday. Despite some of the arrangements going astray, an inability to find parking, Paul nearly loosing his mirror by driving on the wrong side of the road, crowds, and long walks, I hope a good time was had by all. Starting with the colours and hot houses in Kew, we investigated French/English connections: the white cliffs of Newhaven, the battle of Hastings, burning of the Pope at Guy Fawks, to the Tower of London, Buckingham palace, Greenwich meridian, dormitory hostels, snoring Frenchmen, remarkably chique French women immerging from the only douche, and many photos of red telephone boxes. It was a humbling experience to see how good humoured and adaptable the French can be, even in difficult situations.

The horses have continued to delight and enrich our lives.
This year it was Shindi and Lilka’s turn for some long distance rides, some in Ardeche, across the Rhone, with spectacular views, and hot galloping days, some up the Alps, with steep climbs and slides down, Shindi distinguished herself by winning all the ones she partook in, Lilka coming second in some. The winning is worked out by a peculiar mathematical formula from the speed ( maximum 15km/hr) combined with the recovery heart rate taken by the vet after the ride. The maths is sometimes incorrect, according to Chris! but it does not really matter as we all wait around after the event, drinking beer and coffee until they have worked it out, and then the prizes are given out and everyone gets something, in our case long thin silver plastic cups, plaques to stick in the stable, those caps that Americans love to wear back to front & sacs of stale bread ( there is a general belief that bread is what all horses crave…ours hate it, but we like it and by wetting it and cooking again in the oven, it is nearly like real fresh bagettes et flutes which we love!).

Because of gates left open and Oryx jumping Shindi, Shindi went to the vet for a pregnancy test, and turned out to be “enceinte”… we tried aborting it with no luck and she had to withdraw from competitive racing for this year. Shemal was more than keen to take her place, so we galloped into first place along the Rhone near Grenoble, skirting around the nuclear power plant which decorated the sky with its various emissions, with Lilka second again! Robyn and Peach joined us to jocky and crew for the marathon with Lilka and Shemal, but after galloping in the rain, although fit as a fiddle, one of Shemals front legs was not quite right, so only Lilka was taken to Uk to run in the Marathon. Lantana took Shemal’s place in the lorry as she was off to join her brother in Wales and perhaps compete internationally in long distance one day, like her brother & his owner, Andrea, presently members of the British team. Lilka meanwhile one day after our arrival (23 hr journey to Devon), cut her leg in an open stop cock hole left by South West Water, and could not go to the race anyway… so she was depressed, we were wet, cold and depressed, it seemed to be dark all the time, and it rained and rained. Chris drove her back to La Drome.

Research & Writing

Jake & Marthe have just finished a text book for the new academy in South Africa teaching Animal Welfare and How to Improve Animal Teaching. Various students have been doing projects here during the summer, we have run workshops in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, and published 3 new papers on consciousness, subjectivity & behaviour. 2 Ph.D’s. partly supervised here have been completed & received distinctions (Austin & di Nestri) and a distinction in a thesis for a final veterinary qualification at Bologna (Parisi) on the amount of movement in free range horses was supervised here. We now have an exchange student arrangement with Dept Vet Sci University of Bologna.

A Very happy Christmas & Good Luck in 2012

Love from all with either 2 or 4 Legs at La Combe.


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