Sunday, September 16, 2007


I mentioned in an earlier posting that during all the shenanigans surrounding our move we agreed to take Mr S’s dog – under duress. It was not that we had anything against the dog, we had met him a couple of times when we had viewed the farm, and he was slightly distant and aloof, it was simply that we were worried that if he didn’t get on with Ben & Sam we would then be left with the problem of trying to rehome an old, enormous dog.

Anyway, due to a combination of severe emotional blackmail and the fact that when it comes to animals we have the breaking strain of a Kit Kat, we found ourselves with a new addition to our family: Cosmo.

Cosmo is a Pyrenean Mountain dog. Imagine a small Shetland pony, and that’s pretty near the mark. He is 10 and has lived all his life on the farm. At first, after the sale had eventually gone through and we had moved in, the best way I could describe him is “depressed”, and we thought at first that he was missing Mr S. Since then we have learned that Cosmo was often left on his own at the farm for weeks on end. Sometimes a neighbour would come by to feed him once a day, but often Mr S just left him a couple of kilos of food to see him through.

We feed our dogs morning and evening, and that was the routine we wanted for Cosmo. At first, every time I fed him he would leave a lot of the food – I think this was because he had got so used to being on his own, and didn’t know how long the food was supposed to last him, he daren’t eat it all. Thankfully, he has now worked out that he will ALWAYS be fed twice a day – in fact if we’re a bit late in feeding him he will come and bark as if to remind us.

When we moved in Cosmo was a matted ball of fur. I discovered that he LOVES to be brushed: no wonder – he must have been so uncomfortable – so I gradually removed all the knots and burrs and other assorted crap, and then Eddie gave him a haircut.

As for Ben & Sam, there were a few tussles to begin with as Cosmo and Sam tried to work out who was going to be top dog (poor Ben is always going to be bottom of any pecking order he is so easy going), with the end result that Cosmo IS top dog, but he is happy most of the time to let Sam think he is.

Cosmo is a totally different dog to the one we inherited six weeks ago. He is loving and so gentle – a real gentle giant. Now, rather than spending all day in the barn, as he used to, he spends his days outside with us, or patrolling his territory. He even plays with us from time to time. He is an outdoor dog – we have tried to get him to come into the house, but he won’t (that may be no bad thing - I dread to think of the damage he could accidentally do with his hulking great bod). Maybe that will change when the weather gets colder, but he’s obviously bred to withstand the cold.

In short, we are very glad to have him. This breed is not long lived – I think 11 or 12 would be a good age, and he already has some problems with his back legs getting stiff, but for however long he has left we will do our best to make him know that he is loved and wanted.

Cosmo was not all we inherited when we bought the farm

We have a cockerel and 4 hens (one missing from photo!). One hen we only found after we moved in, when we discovered her in one of the stables sitting on eggs. A week later she hatched 5 chicks. Unfortunately two were killed by rats, so we have moved them all to a rat proof house, and put down copious amounts of poison in the outbuildings. One of the other hens had a single chick when we arrived – we’re not sure yet if this is a hen or a cockerel.

Apologies for the lack of photos in the last few posts. Here are some pictures of our new home.

View from bucks paddock up to the village

View from paddock above house across towards the Pyrenees

View from paddock above house looking back to the house

House and barns

House and barns

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Diary of a move: Part 3 - Settling in

Saturday 4th August dawns bright and sunny again, and for the first time we can have a good look at what we’ve bought. There is so much work to do. Putting aside the structural work, and the renovation of the parts of the house that are to a greater or lesser extent uninhabitable, Mr S has left an incredible amount of crap behind – old furniture, clothes, disgusting mattresses covered in bat droppings, stacks of kitchen utensils, a fridge full of dodgy looking items in varying states of decay. The house is filthy. But it’s ours.

The only thing to do is make a start somewhere, so I attack the kitchen while Eddie clears the lounge so we can move our camp beds out of the barn and into the house. As all of the habitable rooms need a good clean, and a fresh coat of paint as an interim measure, and as several window panes are missing in the bedroom, the lounge will have to be the Centre of Operations to begin with.

We make good progress in the morning, and after a trip to the supermarket to get some basic provisions, and a leisurely lunch in the sunshine, we have just got going again when we hear a vehicle coming up the drive. It’s a tractor, driven by our new neighbour who owns the vineyard next door. He has come to introduce himself and explain that he plans to collect the hay bales from the fields the following week. He has a pretty strong Gascon accent but I manage to understand most of what he says. Needless to say, in such a small community, word of what has gone on in the previous week has reached him. He asks us about the animals and I offer to show them to him. He seems impressed – particularly by the sheep, which compared to the local French breeds around here do look pretty good.

I ask him if he would like a beer (stupid question!) and just as we’re getting to find out a bit about him, and tell him a bit about us we hear another vehicle coming up the driveway. It’s the gendarmes, a man and a woman. They get out of the car and ask me if I am Mme Gowen. Yes. Have we brought animals from England? Yes. Then I think he says that our animals are sick. No, I say, they’re not sick. No, he says, there is a “maladie en Angleterre”. What disease? I ask, but even as the words are leaving my mouth I know what he’s going to say. I don’t know, he says. Foot & Mouth? I ask. Yes, he says.

I feel sick. During the last outbreak we were living in Cornwall, and I worked in Devon, where most of my clients were farmers. Many of them lost their entire herd or flock and I saw sights and heard tales I never want to experience again. I can’t believe the disease has returned to the UK.

The gendarme asks me to show him on a map where we came from in England. He explains the outbreak is in Guildford – that’s a good couple of hundred miles from Bedford, but of course we don’t know the route the livestock lorry took. It’s highly unlikely they went through the area, but even so, it’s bloody worrying. The gendarme then makes a phone call, and explains to me that someone from the state veterinary service will be coming to inspect the animals. The gendarme also explains to our neighbour that it would be safest if he left. Great introduction to the community: “Hi, we’re Mr & Mrs Gowen and we might have brought foot & mouth to France!”

Within an hour the guy from the state veterinary service turns up with the local vet. They get out of the car, don protective overalls, hairnets, plastic bags over their shoes, and gloves. Life on Planet Gowen just took another detour into Surrealsville. They inspect the goats and sheep and tell us we are now under restrictions. The animals must not leave the barn. We must handle them as little as possible – just feed and water them but that’s it. We must wear protective clothing which must be taken off immediately after going into the barn, and we must set up a disinfection area. The dogs must not leave the farm. We should only make essential journeys. And so it goes on and on. To be fair they were both very pleasant, and only doing their job, but it made us feel as though there was something wrong with the animals even though we were sure there wasn’t.

After they had gone I rushed for my Blackberry and logged on to the BBC’s website. There it all was in black and white. Only time would tell if the disease would spread as it had in 2001.

Ok, l think that’s enough doom and gloom. Let’s fast forward a bit to today, 2nd September. We’ve been in the house a month. The kitchen, lounge, bedroom and office have been scoured and given a fresh coat of white paint. The revolting bathroom fittings have been jettisoned and Eddie has fitted a brand new shower, basin and toilet. It has been scrubbed clean, painted and tiled. We have unpacked a good proportion of our belongings (though the barn still seems to have an awful lot of stuff in it) and it is so nice to have our things around us. The events of a month ago have dimmed and they’re no longer important.

Last Monday I returned to the UK for my first week back at work. It was a wrench to leave, but it’s the job that enables us to be here, and all in all it really wasn’t bad. The weather wasn’t great, but the time went quickly and just before midnight on Friday I was back home. While I was away, France Telecom activated our ADSL (apologies to those of you who have emailed me – I’m not ignoring you, just couldn’t actually access my emails until yesterday afternoon! I will reply soon, I promise!) which means working from home is a reality.

On the foot & mouth front, we had an inspection by the vet in the week following the outbreak, and then the following week, once we were well outside the incubation period, another state veterinary official came with the vet for another inspection. They verbally gave us the ok, but after checking with the powers that be rang to say that they needed to take blood samples from every animal, which they came back and did the same day. A week later, we officially got the all clear, in writing and our restrictions were lifted.

So, what’s life like here at A Pedemont? In a word, wonderful. We’ve had a few minor problems to cope with getting the various utilities sorted, and a troublesome boiler, but without exception everyone we have dealt with has been friendly, helpful, patient with my less than perfect French (though it’s a damn sight better than it was a month ago!) and efficient. Life definitely moves at a much slower pace here, yet things still get done. I’m sure there’ll be a few more curved balls headed our way, but after that first week I think, and hope, that we should be able to cope.

No knitting has been done, but perhaps that's no surprise! Now that we're settled though, the lure of the pointy sticks is starting to tempt me, so I think I'll be clickety clacking away again before too long.

As I write this I’m sitting under the shade of the umbrella at our garden table. It’s a balmy 78F with a gentle breeze. The angoras and the sheep are lying in the shade of the oak tree, happily chewing the cud. The pigmy goats are lying out in the full sun, which they love. In the distance I can see the faint outline of the Pyrenees in the heat haze. It’s all exactly how I imagined it would be.

We’ve come home.

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