The children are on school holidays again. How can this be, when they have only just gone back? And which French bureaucrat decided the holiday should be two weeks long, rather than one? Does the French education system not realise that school is a much warmer, safer and nurturing environment than a chaotic farm at lambing time?
Our house is always freezing when the boys are home during the day. With three boys and three external doors, I often come back from the lambing shed to find all three left wide open, with an icy wind blowing through from the kitchen into the living room and then out through the garage.
The boys do not seem to feel the cold, which is just as well, and never seem to think about switching lights on. Twice this week I’ve come back to the three of them sitting in front of the TV in the dark in their underpants, with all their other clothes, wet, muddy and worse, hung over radiators that are blasting out heat in an attempt to heat central Limousin via our open front door. You see, they’d be much better at school.
Bearing in mind that livestock farming anywhere is hard work, taking dedication and lots of time to do it right, it is no wonder that doing this in a foreign country takes a bit more effort. We both, sort of, speak French. Steve has a great vocabulary, particularly of all farming terms, while I have a better grasp of the grammar, so between us we manage quite well. Yet we do have moments when all this seems to go out of the window. For instance, the Italian woman speaking French with her accent clearly demonstrating her origins was certainly challenging.
Form filling takes much longer and letter writing is hard work. French accounting is still a bit of a black hole and French business is still rooted somewhere in the 1950s. The customer is not necessarily king in France and, for this reason, a lot of our farm purchases comes from the UK – Bernard at Mole Valley Farmers is our personal shopper and without him life would definitely be much harder.
To all this, throw in the three underpant-clad brothers in arms, boxes of lambs in the kitchen, escape-artist guinea-pigs, the desperate need to finish the cattle shed and start putting up a new workshop. The planned extra work on the house, including an extension above the garage to give Tom and Sam their own bedrooms and moving the front door, is also on the cards in the near future. There is also about six miles of fencing that has to be done and more gates to hang than we dare admit.
Therefore, with all this in mind, it is probably a good time to say goodbye to my monthly column for Farmers Weekly. I have enjoyed writing this very much and know that it has kept us in touch with many old friends. Thank you to everyone who has read and hopefully enjoyed this column. You know where we are…