Dragonflies, swallows and kir petillant

And still France continues to share its wild life secrets…

A few hours ago, we were sitting outside – taking a smoke and drinks break before yet another stage of the fucking interminable process of putting together an Ikea Hemnes wardrobe – when Mrs Shark exclaimed that she’d just seen the biggest hornet ever.

Closer examination of the ‘hornet’ revealed that it was, in fact, this:


It’s a Broad-bodied Chaser – or so Google has reliably informed me – a female.

Never seen one of those before.

Amazing wings – almost like Tiffany glass…

Whilst I was typing the first part of this blog entry – sitting in the dining room with a JPS 100 and another (sic) nice glass of kir petillant – there was a great commotion when a swallow flew in through the doors and Oscar caught it.

As far as we know, this is the first bird that he’s ever actually managed to get between his jaws.

I managed to get it off him and – fortunately – it seemed remarkably unphased and uninjured and flew off out of my hands when I took it outside.

My god, but it was beautiful…

I feel doubly blessed now – and, after my fourth glass of kir – very full of honhomie.

Just call me Mr Congeniality…

…better had, or I’ll twat you one…

Footnote: the photo was taken by me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 compact camera.

Tomorrow, the world…

Out of the two Maine Coons we have, Django is by far and away the better hunter, with many bird and small mammal kills to his name.

However, Oscar achieved a first today – as far as we know – by cornering a snake.

Whilst we were having lunch in the garden, we saw that Oscar was busy jumping and pouncing on something. On closer investigation, it proved to be a grass snake about 70 cm long which Oscar had got backed up against the trunk of the large oak tree in the center of our garden.

We distracted Oscar so that the snake could escape, although he saw where it had slithered off to and watched that spot for an hour afterwards.

I’ve been wearing gloves to clear undergrowth of stones and sticks before I strim in case of snakes and, having seen the grass snake that Oscar was facing off to, I’m glad I have.

There are adders about, I’ve been told, and although their bite isn’t fatal, I don’t fancy finding that out the hard way…

Stop press, Oscar just caught a frog.

So, that’s the animal kingdom sewn up – Django has the birds and mammals and Oscar has the reptiles and amphibians…

Headline of the century?



That’s a big one!

I’ve just been doing some serious brushcutting in the garden and a few minutes later this beauty appeared near to where Mrs Shark was doing some weeding:




I guess I must have disturbed it which was a pity, but it did give us the opportunity to see our first Green Lizard here. Aptly named as you can see. It was big too, about 30cm long from its nose to the tip of its tail, although I’ve heard they can grow up to nearly 40cm long.

Small fry compared to another French lizard species found in the Pyrenees – the Ocellated Lizard. This can grow to 90cm and will take young rabbits, for fuck’s sake!

I’ll pass on that motherfucker, thanks…

The wildlife here never fails us and often amazes us – from the abundance of wild flowers like primroses and cowslips to the wide variety of birds.

And neither does the amount of work still to be done on the house and garden!

Painting our bedroom later…

Happiness is a hoopoe!

After a week of weather here that would put many a summer’s to shame, it finally broke last night.

We woke up to a rather damp day and the sun is struggling to shine so it’s not too bad now, although I’m sure the farmers here would have liked a bit more rain. It’s been very dry for months now.

About half an hour ago we were sitting in the dining room having lunch and looking out at the day when all of a sudden Mrs Shark asked, ‘What’s that bird?’, in a very excited voice.

I looked where she was pointing and saw something I’d only seen once before.

It was one of these:


Yes, a hoopoe!

It was digging about in the verge by the side of the communal road here – probably because the rain had made using that long beak beak to skewer insects or worms in the damp ground a bit easier.

OK, they might be commonplace here – although I think they’re more often found in the south of the country – but we were totally gobsmacked.

The only other time we’ve seen one was when we were on holiday much further south in the Herault departement. We were renting a house on a terraced slope in a village and saw one flying through the trees down below us, although we heard its distinctive cry a lot more often.

Anyway, we’re feeling dead chuffed and looking forward to another sighting.

Leapin’ lizards!

It’s a gorgeous day here and so the lizards which live in the walls of our house are taking the opportunity to catch some rays:


At one point I counted 12 of them basking on or near the piece of wood.

It put me in mind of this:

And then this:


So, how did I get to Mott the Hoople?

Answers on a postcard, etc, etc. etc

First correct answer gets instant fame by being mentioned on this blog.

Ginger bastards update

Time for some long overdue cat news…

Over the year in the house we rented whilst we looked for, bought and finally moved into our own property here in the Mayenne, our two Maine Coon cats settled in to ex-pat life very well indeed.

Django, now almost fully grown at 4, had a particularly good year chalking up many kills including mice, voles and a mole, as well as many birds of several species.

That wren didn’t stand a fucking chance…

Oscar, Django’s half brother and nephew (work that one out!) isn’t much of a hunter, although he  did his best with flies, moths and craneflies.

Oscar is now bigger than his uncle with another year to grow so he seems almost certain to become one of the bigger Maine Coons and I’m glad to say that along with this growth spurt he’s become a very affectionate and companionable cat. Django is a bit more aloof, although still fantastic company.

Now, the process of change has to start all over again for them.

We’ve been here for almost 2 weeks, during which the cats have been kept in. After a few puddles and turds Oscar has finally started to use the litter tray which is something he never did a year ago when we first came over here. I’m inclined to think that this shows that the disruption of moving here wasn’t as great for him as last year when the two cats had to travel on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen without us.

Liberation day is this coming Saturday when the cats of war will be unleashed upon this tiny and unsuspecting community and Ginger Bastardom will reign in this corner of a foreign field…

House update

The past week has flown by in a rather dusty haze as we began to clear the house prior to the real work of renovation.

Two tipper trucks of crap went to the dechetterie (rubbish tip) at Pouance and we’re beginning to see the rooms more clearly as parts of a blank canvas. The loft in particular seems certain to be converted to two large bedrooms (possibly one with an en suite), a good sized bathroom and a large landing with a nice view of the fields through the Velux that’s already there.

Getting the piles of rubbish down from the loft was a problem until Mrs Shark hit the idea of using a couple of lengths of board on the stairs and sliding the stuff down. She even had another brainwave when she put an old stool at the bottom to protect the wall by the stairs. However, a particularly heavy box of junk slid down and drove the stool through the plasterboard wall…ah well…

The wiring is a fucking nightmare with a dangerous mixture of French and English sockets and switches all linked together with English cable which is a definite no-no in France. Luckily we found lots of brand new French cable with flexible conduit in the barn.

We’re very lucky in that we already have a lot of materials on site. The previous owners started to renovate the place and then didn’t touch it for about 5 years but the boiler is new, all the radiators are there with pipe work and a lot of plasterboarding has been done. OK, so much of what’s been done by them will have to be ripped out and checked, but the materials can all be reused. We should save several thousand euros that way – enough for a brand new kitchen with change. There’s also masses of floor and wall tiles and lots of reusable oak beams and other timber in the barn.

The barn…

We’ve only just scratched the surface in there but already 4 mountain bikes, a petrol mower, a cement mixer, a table saw, a log saw, a windsurfing board, French doors, old shutters, brass fire furniture, a Belfast sink, a stable door, a pressure washer and garden furniture have come to light. In an old trunk amongst some old tools we found an iron statuette of the Virgin Mary. I’m not at all religious but I might construct a niche for this somewhere in the house. It may have been part of the history of the house and it would be nice to have the continuity.

In the course of tracing a leak in the plumbing we found an abandoned ‘lair’ in the roof space above the cave. It looks as if foiunes (stone martens) have been there and left lots of egg shells amongst the chewed up insulation so they’d been bothering the neighbours’ chickens. There was also a rather rank smell of fouine piss…

We’ve been planning out the kitchen this afternoon as it’ll be one of the first things to be done so we can can move in as soon as possible.

As soon as possible?

That’s probably about the end of January when we should have all the messy inside work done and will have most of the downstairs sorted.

It’s all very exciting!


Right…we’ve had the wasps, the hornets and the daddy longlegs…

Now we’ve discovered we have mice.

If I could, I’d have the most toxic mouse killer available salted all around the house but that’s not an option I’m happy with given that we have cats – two hulking great Maine Coon males called Django and Oscar.

Django* has caught a fair few mice while we’ve been here (along with numerous voles, moles, lizards, assorted birds – from sparrows to pigeons – and even a bat) but there’s limits to where even he can go in the house to catch them so last Friday we invested in a couple of mouse traps.

To start with, I baited one with some cheese (Seriously Strong cheddar) and placed it in one of the kitchen cupboards and we woke up the next morning to find this:

P1010356 - Copy

That’s one dead motherfucker…

We were dead chuffed to say the least and our feelings of success swept aside any feelings of sentiment we might have had for the little fucker.

Subsequent attempts to slaughter mice have been unsuccessful, but I’m guessing they learn where the traps are left so tonight it’s going to be two traps and in different places.

I suppose it’s all part of rural life – not something we’ve had much experience of before moving here. To judge by the tubs of raticide and souricide you see in the shops here, rodent pests are quite common so we’re not alone.

*As for Oscar, he seems more interested in catching moths…

Pests and pestilence, praise and blame

After all the flies, wasps and hornets of the summer, we now have autumn pests.


These are just common or garden crane flies or daddy longlegs but in such large numbers that they’re extremely bloody annoying.


They’re around all the time, but they’re particularly attracted to house lights at night, so that letting one of the cats in or out after dark has to be a very speedy process. Just opening the door for 5 seconds can let a dozen of the pests in and then it’s twatting time…Fly spray works, but there’s a limit to how much we want to inhale, so it looks like being careful opening doors and swatters are the order of the day until they die off naturally.

Not content with plagues of insects, France has visited upon us colds which have been very heavy. Neither of us have had colds for a while and usually recover very quickly, but these were persistent buggers and have left us feeling very drained. A seven day regime of tissues, Beecham’s powders and Calvados didn’t seem to help but the worst seems to be over now, thank fuck.

We’ve had my brother and sister-in-law to stay and sent them back to the UK today with colds after a week of almost constant rain and tipule infestation. We had a great time though and with three of our four birthdays to celebrate – the 2nd, 4th and 5th of October – it was easy to forget the insects and pestilence here.

Having heard a track from Tom Jones’ new album ‘Praise and Blame’ on TV and liked it a couple of weeks ago, I asked my in-laws to grab a copy of it as they were coming over.

Not being a Tom Jones fan I have to say that I’m pretty impressed by it. Apparently, so the story goes, when Jones delivered the album to the boss of the new label he’d just signed to, his agent was told that if it wasn’t some sort of sick joke, the signing fee should be refunded. How I wish that was the case with many other rock dinosaurs who keep on pumping out the same old crap…

Whatever preconceptions his label boss had about the album, it certainly doesn’t sound like the Tom Jones people normally think of…

With a band stripped down to basic instrumentation – keys, guitars, bass and drums – Jones tackles blues and gospel and does a pretty good fucking job. Producer and key player Ethan Johns manages to get a gorgeous guitar tone that I’ve never heard before – clean and hi-fi but with immense body. I assume he’s using a Tele, but what else I can’t say.

His tone…I want it!

I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest album I’ve heard lately, but it’s well worth a listen and if you can blag it for 7 or 8 quid from your local supermarket, the Shark says go for it!