Wednesday, August 20, 2008

le bungee

The crane erector arrived first thing and spent most of the day oiling pulleys and cables and fixing the wiring. A repair had been carried out by the previous owner which resulted in a fault in the overload cut-out system so that instead of being able to bring the load back in, it went further out - which could have resulted in the crane toppling over! It's now up - and it's very high (17m to be precise). BB has come up with an idea for recouping the huge cost of having it transported here, towed down by M. Bouger and then erected - "le bungee" - offering bungee jumping! Mmmm. I wonder if our house insurance covers that?

The MOT man arrives on 3 September and then, all being well, work will commence.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

guilty m'lud

I was awoken at 5 o'clock this morning by the goats making such a racket (I thought a small child was being strangled!) that I rushed out in the dark with my torch to find them both suspended from the ash tree. They'd wound themselves round the tree so much that their hind legs were barely touching the ground. After I'd freed them I tied them up again under the washing line, as far away from the trees as possible.

When I returned to have a go at milking the mum later in the morning, BB's bleus (blue workmen's trousers) which had been out on the line were a foot shorter! Is there anything goats won't eat?

I gave the goat some cabbage to take its mind off the impending milking proceedings, shaved round the udder with the lady shaver, wiped its bottom with a damp sponge and applied some vaseline to the teat. The goat didn't appear to be "happily eating" as per the goat in the "Teddington Cheese Wire" and tried to head butt me in the privates. With BB holding her by the horns I gently grasped the greased appendage and started pulling but the goat went berserk and peed on me and the smell was so bad that I had to go inside and take a shower.

I think I may pass on the goats.

When I called Mini-B to say he could take them back he told me he's given me a bouc (a male goat!) by mistake. I didn't dare tell him what I'd done to it!

Monday, August 18, 2008

the goat trial

Mini-B arrived at 7 o'clock this morning in his van and started to unload two goats - a mother and her kid, he told me. I rushed out in my nightie and wellies and was leading the goats across the road to the garden when a truck-load of workmen passed, hooting and gesticulating wildly. I thought they were friends of Mini-B's until he informed me that the back of my nightie was tucked into my pants! I tied the goats up near the rose bushes and we went inside for a coup de blanc.

Later in the morning when I went to check on them I discovered that they'd practically stripped my rose bushes bare so I tied them up under the ash tree and went to google "how to milk a goat". The "Teddington Cheese Wire" recommends as follows:

"When milking the goat you can easily disturb the hair on its belly, so the hair under the udder should be clipped and brushed to remove hair and dirt. Just before milking, when your goat is tied up and happily eating, her udder and hind quarters need to be wiped down with a damp sponge and a small amount of udder cream should be put on the teats and hands. It may be a good idea to practice the milking technique with the finger of an old rubber glove with a pin-hole in the tip."

BB went off in search of clippers, udder cream and an old rubber glove, and returned, resourceful as ever, with my Babyliss lady shaver, a jar of vaseline and a préservatif. Whilst I was sitting on the front-door step practising squirting milk out of the prophylactic, a couple of pesky Jehovah's Witnesses went past on their bicycles and were so busy staring at me that they missed the turn and rolled into the ditch.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

make hay while the sun shines

On the way up to the Sunday Club this morning we passed two of Mini-B's three tractors lying abandoned (i.e. broken down) in separate fields, mid hay-making. The cut hay that hasn't been rolled up is lying rotting on the ground after the rain and the rolled-up bales look like burst mattresses.

M. Norbert the lumberjack was there today. His son has just come out of a coma after a serious head trauma. He was winching some wood with Norbert when the steel cable (capable of holding 20 tonnes) which had been passed around a tree stump to use as a pulley, slipped and - like a bow string - smacked him on the back of the head. Luckily he was bending down at the time otherwise the cable would have taken his head off. He's now in a rehabilitation unit and appears to be making a full recovery.

I never realised the countryside was such a dangerous place. If people aren't chopping their limbs off with circular saws or chain saws, they're meeting untimely deaths. Last year a guy we knew was killed in an avalanche here, another was killed when he drove his quad bike into a telegraph pole and the husband of Poire's new wife was killed in a hunting accident. A year before that, Mini-B's uncle was electrocuted when he climbed an aluminium ladder in a thunder storm to replace the chimney cap which had blown off and the brother of the previous owner of our mill died after eating a tin of sardines - granted, they were 25 years past their sell-by date.

Nobody seems to die peacefully in their sleep. Which is a bit worrying given the enormity of our building project.

Nainbo was on at me again to take Rosalea and has suggested that I try a goat as a mate, so I am going to borrow one of Mini-B's to see how I get on. I may even try my hand at making goats' cheese.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

mr shifter part 2

With the hitch professionally welded back together and back in place, M. Bouger returned this evening to move the crane the last few feet into position.

To give you an idea of the constraints - the road is eight feet wide with a steep embankment on one side and a slope down to the river on the other; the crane is just under eight feet wide and 32 feet long and the platform is at a 90 degree angle to the road.

The crane's front wheel had sunk about a foot into the gravel platform but without even revving the engine, M. Bouger pulled it out and then, in a show of tractor gymnastics worthy of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, pushed it back into place. The tractor wheels just seemed to have lives of their own. When M. Bouger asked if he could leave the machine here over-night (BB said he could leave it here for as long as he liked - with the keys), he reversed it up the embankment at a 45 degree angle while the ten of us stood there gawping.

So, the good news is that the crane is finally in place. The bad news is that, to his list of toys of three motorbikes (including one 30-year old Laverda 500 which has never been ridden because it won't start), one mountain bike (brand-new and ridden twice), one pair of snow shoes (brand-new and never used), six pairs of skis (a new pair each season), one rusty old crane (never used) and one Ural sidecar (on order but will no doubt be ridden twice), BB wants to add a tractor. I've said we can discuss tractors when the house is finished - which at this rate will probably be in ten years time!

mr shifter part 1

M. Bouger arrived this morning on a tractor that makes Mini-B's look like Dinky toys, but as usual, nothing went according to plan and I came very close to ending up under a pile of rubble.

BB noticed a crack in the tow hitch of the crane and Poire did a quick repair job with an arc welder, but as the tractor pushed the crane down the slope and tried to manoeuvre it into position on the platform, the hitch snapped in two. If it had happened a moment earlier, as the crane was descending, it would have rolled down and crashed straight into our house, knocking me off my look-out perch at the top bedroom window.

It's now sitting half-on the platform, jutting out into the middle of the road, with just enough room for a small car to squeeze past in the ditch. Two Council members - Fester (the mayor's co-pilot) and our neighbour, M. Toupie - have just been down to see what's going on and Fester suggested that we try to push the (ten tonne!) crane back off the road ourselves. BB just gave him one of his withering looks and rolled his eyes.

Mini-B passed at lunch-time to see how things were progressing and I noticed an odd squelching sound when he removed his wellies and saw that his socks were soaking wet. He'd just been to visit the Belgians who are doing up a house here and they'd given him beer that was so strong he'd poured it into his boots when they weren't looking to avoid drinking it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

will you turn that cowbell down

Several people have complained to the mairie recently about - get this - the noise of the cowbells worn by Mini-B's cattle. Can you believe it! We're in the French Alps for crying out loud. It's like going on a beach holiday and complaining about the noise of the sea. Turns out that these moaning minnies are citadins (city folk from Paris and Lyon) who have maisons secondaires here. No wonder the locals don't like people with second homes.

You hear stories in the news occasionally about cowbell rustlers. The old ones are worth a lot of money and sell for up to €2000 in some of the posh interior design shops in Méribel and Courchevel.

They were originally used by herdsmen to identify the herd to which freely roaming animals belonged, but Mini-B's cows wear them (very old ones!) more as a kind of GPS system to establish their whereabouts when they escape from his poorly fenced-in fields. He's probably got a new tractor's worth there.

The "proper" farmer, M. Bouger, arrives early tomorrow morning to bring the crane down.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

monsieur slip

There's a guy who lives above us in the chalet next to the field where the crane was sitting and every single day (no exaggeration) in the grass-growing season, if it's not raining, he's out there mowing the lawn - in nothing but a pair of very small men's briefs! Locally he's known as Monsieur Slip (Mr Underpants). His garden is immaculate but when I passed today I saw eight-inch deep tractor tracks going right across his lawn. BB never told me about this. The man must be livid. It's bad enough that he's had to put up with the bright yellow eyesore sitting on the edge of his garden for the last few weeks (clashing with his petunias and geraniums) - but to trash his lawn! I've never spoken to him (he only arrived last year) but I must go up with a bottle of something and apologise - although I've heard he can talk the hind legs off a donkey so I may be gone for some time.

(Talking of donkeys - Justine and Zoé are doing fine but now it seems three's a crowd and Nainbo is suggesting that I take the other one, Rosalea. I saw this coming.)

We picked our potatoes today (about 250 kg), and the beetroots, which I've pickled. I've also left 40 green walnuts from our tree to marinade in some of Roquin's gnole (the pure alcohol he makes with the grape stalks, pips and skin left over after he's made his wine). After 40 days you add white wine and sugar to make vin de noix. I've not tried this before but I've done it with orange peel to make vin d'orange and it's very tasty.

A farmer from a neighbouring village passed today and says he can move the crane down here. He's a proper farmer with proper working equipment. He's going to call back with a date - so fingers crossed.