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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A new (b)logger

What better way to burn off the Christmas excesses than a day's graft in the fresh air ? Aided and abetted by my two helpful sons keen to leave aside their new I-pods and phones and be 'at one' with mother nature....
Actually, it wasn't quite like that.
Josh, 'the elder' who lives and works in Mexico is spending Christmas with us this year is not really the physical type, whose idea of heavy lifting is two pens at the same time.!
Jake 'the younger' normally doesn't do anything he can't reach from the end of his bed, so a bit of shock was in store.
The job was done though, and the logs were all moved to an accessible point yesterday.
Today we all have aching backs and shoulders but a satisfying sense of acheivement. (or is that just me?)

Josh wanted to write the blog today. So here is his account:

It’s been a tough year. After having spent most of my waking hours explaining subjunctives, conditionals, and subordinate clauses – with varying degrees of success – I decided to reward myself with what I thought would be a well-deserved, relaxing winter break with family in the heart of Brittany, with the promise of being able to relax for a couple of weeks and, well, the tranquillity might even help clear my mind. Chicken soup for the soul.

It turns out I was wrong. Yesterday I was assigned the task of “chucking logs across a forest” as my father so accurately put it. He had recently cut up a couple of trees that had fallen down in a nearby forest for firewood in a few winters’ time. He would normally get the tractor in and move them all back to the house that way, but, as sod’s law would have it, the trees that fell down were at the bottom of a valley, making access impossible with a tractor, and the logs lay at the bottom of a 10-metre slope.

All alternatives having been considered, and subsequently ruled out, the only solution was to throw the logs up the slope by way of a human chain: my brother, my father and myself. I’m not sure how much logging experience any of you have, but I soon discovered that two trees – one oak and one chestnut – give you one hell of a lot of wood. Obviously, I didn’t count the damned things, but there must have been in excess of 1,000 logs. Add to that the fact that these were logs that had been soaked by three weeks’ rainwater, making them much heavier – about two tons.

The whole job took us about seven hours, with a half-hour lunch break. Somewhat ingenuously, I offered to position myself at the bottom of the chain. This was for the psychological motivation of seeing the pile of logs go down bit by bit, but also, admittedly, to avoid myself the embarrassment of not being able to catch the wood. However, I had failed to realise that this would mean picking them all up instead of just catching them, which is without a doubt more strenuous on the back. I also discovered that for every log you took off the pile, ten more appeared underneath, so it was psychological torture.

So, for all those of you who are wondering what I’m getting up to in France, and possibly thinking ‘That lucky git gets a nice holiday in Europe while I’m stuck here eating tacos… again!’, well, I hope this post has answered your queries, and given you something to smirk about. Maybe it has even taken your mind off the stress caused by the relentless crashing waves on the Ensenada beach and the endless carne asada tacos and buñuelos. Rest assured I am still busy working, this time in the freezing cold and incessant rain, on my two-week lumberjack apprenticeship courtesy of Quelvehin Alpagas and Dead Oak Trees Co.

Oh, and guacamole just isn’t the same with French avocados… and it doesn’t go very well on crêpes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Predator

One of the main chores of alpaca ownership is the never ending collection of droppings.
Whilst this is not essential, we choose to do it because on limited pasture it helps to keep the parasite and worm counts to a minimum,and that means happy,healthy alpacas.
Which has to be a good thing!
Nevertheless it can sometimes be a bit of a drag with around thirty animals to clear up after.
Imagine my joy then when I came across a poo-hoover for sale in a nearby village.My days of trudging around with the wheelbarrow were surely numbered.
I hurriedly arranged a viewing to see this machine that was to change my life.
To get the story into perspective this all happened about a month ago. At the viewing I wasn't convinced it was the godsend I had hoped for.However, the guy selling it used to be an agent for the manufacturers, and,having lost none of his sales patter assured me it was the bees knees and I couldn't live without it. Mindful of my apprehension he agreed to let me have it for a trial period.
So it was arranged. I collected the beast and unloaded it from the trailer ready to clear the paddocks in a jiffy.
Now,the first thing you notice about the beast is the word "PREDATOR" emblazened on all three sides in large print.
The "PREDATOR" (this should be said with a growl in your voice, the voice over of all the horror movie trailers you've ever watched).
The"PREDATOR" is the beast to make mincemeat of poo piles,the Arnold Schwarzenegger of poovers gobbling up everything in it's path.
As my trial period unfolded inbetween bouts of rain and other chores over the following weeks the "PREDATOR" turned out to be more Mr Bean than Arnold Schwarzenegger. A catalogue of mishaps too numerous to mention made the whole experience rather miserable.
Not that it was all entirely the "PREDATOR"s fault. It could suck.God it could suck.There wasn't much that didn't fly up the tube. But the tube was always in the wrong place.There's always lumps just out of reach.The whole thing was too cumbersome to manoeuvre without running through poo and thereby spreading it rather than collecting it.I couldn't get through gateways without knocking bits off the tractor. The pipe kept blocking up when I tried to do leaves,At one point I was so engrossed in watching that it wasn't blocking up that I drove straight through the fence!and then a trip through the woods to empty the thing resulted in me tipping it over on it's side. Gary Sanders style!
Ok,if I had a Quad instead of a tractor it would have been easier. If the paddocks were flat and the leaves had been dry it would have been easier. If I could train my alpacas to poo in allocated areas like Judi B's it would have been easier. But lifes not like that and now the old wheelbarrow is back in daily service.
The PREDATOR has been returned to it's rightful owner.

Quelvehin Porte Overte

Well we nearly didn't manage it. The freeze was holding out right up to Friday night when the temperature upped a few degrees and the rain came and washed the bulk of it away. Too late for some of our more distant clients and friends who made their apologies and would have stay away.
After concluding by Thursday it was going to be a non-starter, it was now a mad panic to get everything ready for the open day.
Gary and Felicia from Popham Alpacas arrived Saturday morning after a longer than normal journey to avoid the worst of the remaining snow,and after settling the animals in, there was only time for a quick cup of tea before it was 'all hands on deck' getting things ready.
The workshop was cleaned (a bit) and dressed with fleeces. The Lodge was decked out with products with Patsy spinning in one room and Kate felting in the other. The Cottage was to be the dining room for some thirty odd lunches despite the fact it is let out to a long term tennant. She was very understanding and quite enjoyed being waitress for the day.
Gary gave a talk on fleece traits whilst Felicia was in her element searching for unwanted nasties in freshly gathered poo samples under her microscope.
All in all the day went well and a big "Thankyou" to everyone that made it possible.

This week also hails the return of the prodigal N° 1 son after a few years in Mexico, Josh is coming home for Christmas. He is currently doing the rounds in England and after three years of only wearing tee-shirts and eating everything laced in chillies he is finding the food rather bland and the weather somewhat chilly!
Looking forward to his arrival on Wednesday.