Beth Haslam - logo amsterdam
Welcome to the latest sunshine edition of Fat Dogs News. Can you believe that it’s summer in our part of the world already? I have no idea where the time goes!

Here’s the list of regular features. Get ready for chicks, this issue has many chick pics!

  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Jack’s Latest Tantrum
  • Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates
  • Fantastic France!
  • Recipe
  • Bookish Corner
  • Et voilà!

Chez Fat Dogs

The change of season from late spring to summer has been imperceptible this year, shifting from hot to heatwaves – they call them canicules here. Predictably, the early high temperatures have brought out a rash of complaining farmers. Winter wheat is struggling, the sunflowers are panting, and now Jean-Pierre (the one who owns a herd of chunky Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle) is moaning that his newly cut hay is too crispy. Concerned for our friend, Aby had a good look. Fortunately, she declared it was looking fine. Attagirl!
Meanwhile, it has also been hot in the forest for different reasons. When Nathan, our forester, mournfully declared that the tractor was ‘mort’, Jack instantly flew into a grump. Why? Because he had recently serviced the engine and it ought to have been running perfectly.
Everyone stood nervously to attention, dreading the discovery of a terminal fault as Jack ripped lumps of machinery apart. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. The tractor wasn’t dead. It had simply blown a fuse. Phew! Back on track, we returned to our annual wood stacking. Nathan hauls fallen trees to clearances, we cut and load wood into bundles, which are sold for firewood. The job isn’t done yet, but progress is steady.
We’re not the only ones busy in the forest. The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. Newborns of various species are making their first shy appearances. Velvet paws, the pitter-patter of tiny hooves, timid expressions, none more gorgeous than this little one. I apologise for the awful photo quality, but couldn’t resist sharing it with you. Just look at that gangly-legged sweetheart with her mum!
Once again, rather than incubating eggs, we left the penned pheasants to their own devices. And they’re doing us proud. So far, we have a mixture of melanistic and Reeves’ pheasant chicks. The difference in personalities of these tiny animals amazes me.
The black melanistics with their creamy-white collars possess hooligan tendencies. They strut about looking like mini vicars, pecking each other and driving their parents mad. Not the Reeves’. They’re timorous, uber-cute and bounce around like downy ping pong balls. Naughty or not, they’re all impossibly adorable. It was with a couple of Reeves’ chicks that we became involved in an unexpected rescue mission.
Our extremely high temperatures bring occasional thunderstorms. They’ll build, build, build during the day and explode with a fantastic show during the night. Sadly, vicious downpours are common too. Bearing in mind that most Reeves pheasants make hopeless mums, after the last deluge, I was apprehensive about what I’d find in the pens.
Nearly all the chicks were fine, but not quite. I found two lying in a muddy corner, soaked through. Water droplets ran off their heaving chests as they battled for life. It was a pitiful sight. We have never successfully treated chicks in such a dreadful state, but I couldn’t possibly leave them to die.
I took them back to the house, and ‘midwife Jack’ immediately set to work. We had them almost dry by nightfall, but they were lifeless and wobbly. Feeling pretty miserable about their chances, we left them in our warm (cat-free) study with a makeshift heat lamp.
Amazingly, when I went in early the following morning, they were both alive, although there was a problem. One was perky, but the other seemed to be dwindling and was being knocked over by his sibling.
I scooped him up to live out his last moments in peace while I worked. Happily, my diagnosis was entirely wrong. As it turned out, all he needed was a good nap. After an hour, he was good to go.
Two days later, both chicks were feeding well and threatening to jump out of their box. It was time to go back to their pen. Astonishing thing, instinct. I gently placed them on the grass, and they found their mum within minutes. Since that episode, we have watched them flourish with their brothers and sisters. It was another small win and a heartening triumph for us.
It isn’t only wildlife and wood that have occupied my time over the past few weeks. I recently had yet another foray into the great French pastime of brocante visiting. Click on the image below to find out what happened!
Blog pic cover pic

Fat Dogs Memes

Little fella, lots of attitude! Gotta love a melanistic pheasant chick.
Melanistic cartoon

Jack’s latest tantrum

Jack’s a black belt at ranting, but beneath that grumpy exterior lies a heart of gold. We know not to take his outbursts seriously, and he fizzles out as quickly as he ignites. Until the next explosion...

The background.
A friend of ours regularly sends correspondence from the UK. She pops letters into a reinforced envelope, pays the postage, and they’re despatched. Easy. Or was, until things changed. A couple of weeks ago, our French postman knocked on the door. Unluckily for him, it was Jack who got there first. Here’s the English version of what happened.
Monsieur ’aslam, here is your package, but I am sorry, you must pay the ten euros.”
“Why? Is the parcel too heavy for the postage paid?”
“Nothing like that. It is the douane. You must pay duty.”
What? We have never had customs duty on these before.”
“I know, I am sorry, but you have no choice. You pay the money, or I must take away your packet.”
“I cannot believe this. We’ve received similar packages for umpteen years, and suddenly, you want me to pay extra postage?”
“It is the douane, monsieur, not me.”
“It’s the slippery slope. That’s what it is.”
“I do not understand.”
“And what on earth do they think is lurking inside? Fancy goods, electrical equipment, a tin of Heinz baked beans? [Jack has an aversion to the French equivalent.] It’s letters, just letters. That’s all it has ever been.”
“You can refuse to accept the package if you want.”
“Well, obviously, I can’t do that. I need those letters. And what do I do, just hand over the tenner?”
“Tenner, monsieur?”
“Ten euros.”
“You can give me a cheque or cash. I do not mind.”
“I see. And what about a receipt?”
Ah, non, I cannot give you a receipt.”
“Perhaps you will get one via your email system. I do not know.”
“I honestly do not believe this. First, they slap on a charge for no reason, they can’t even be bothered to invent one, and then they don’t give post people the wherewithal to issue a receipt. It’s just as well we know you, Pierre; otherwise, I’d think something fishy was going on.”
“Fishy, monsieur?”
“A conspiracy!”
“I hope not. Remember, you can still refuse, monsieur.”
“No, no, here’s your money. You know what this is, don’t you?”
“I don’t, monsieur.”
“Brexit. It’s bloody Brexit!”

Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates

Hooray! The major edit for Fat Dogs Wales is done. I’ve been having dragon and castles chats with Maggie Raynor, my illustrator, and will continue with detail tweaks while she creates her magic. Patience is a virtue at this stage of the publishing journey.

Here’s a short extract from a holiday we had in a remote cottage on the Welsh moors. It had basic amenities, and as you can tell, my mother was finding things fairly challenging.

Ma started organising food supplies in the galley kitchen and sent me off to make the beds. I was halfway through when I heard her making unusual noises.
“Shoo, shoo, goodness, how naughty! Go on, out!
I rushed downstairs to find Ma and Sam in the living room.
“Beth! Get your horse out of here right now!
“Sorry, Ma, he’s just interested in what’s going on.”
“I don’t even know how he managed to squeeze through the door. Oh dear me, and look at that rug. Horseshoe imprints!”
I honestly didn’t think the rug could be much more damaged than it already was, but decided not to mention the obvious. I took Sam outside and started getting on with my job when I heard another gasp.
“Oh dear. I’m not at all sure about this.”
“What’s wrong now, Ma? Sam’s not in again, is he?”
“No, it’s the lavatory. I fear there’s something very wrong here.”

Fantastic France!

Have you visited France recently? If not, let me remind you about one of her most iconic landmarks. Yes, it’s the much-loved Eiffel Tower. This slender beauty is evocative of romance, drama, invention and, of course, Paris.
Here are some fun facts you might not have come across:
  • Every seven years, the Eiffel Tower gets a fresh splash of paint. More than 60 tons are needed to freshen the monument. That’s a lot of colour!
  • 2,500,000 rivets were used during the construction of the Tower. (Jack liked that one.)
  • It took two years, two months and five days to complete the construction of the Tower.
  • Believe it or not, the Tower faced significant criticism when it was built. French intellectuals and the general public believed the new structure would destroy the beauty of Paris. Their concerns were misguided. Today, the Tower is considered an architectural wonder and has received over 250 million visitors.
  • There are 1665 steps from the esplanade to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
  • The Tower was featured in the 1985 Bond film A View to A Kill. It was the last appearance from Roger Moore as 007 and saw an epic chase among the soaring iron girders of Paris’s famous landmark. Plenty of other films have highlighted the famous landmark. Do you have a favourite?
And if you were already familiar with those fun facts, why not test your knowledge further with this fun quiz from ‘Pierre’? Ahem, shamefully, I didn’t score 100%.
Eiffel tower lights-2
If you fancy reading a bit more about this fantastic monument, here’s the official Eiffel Tower website link, where you’ll find many of these facts and lots more.

Recipe from France

My summertime menus almost always include a salad, so you’ll imagine my delight when my pal, Lindy, suggested this delicious concoction. Here it is, a fabulous summery recipe from Lindy Viandier’s culinary repertoire. I’ll be trying it next week!

Lindy's Summer Salad

Salad days are here again at Les Libellules. I love this time of year when I can cook with produce fresh from my own garden. But living in Burgundy there is an ongoing battle between us and the snails that the region is famous for who also like to munch on our lettuce. This spring it appears that they are winning!
However we do have some early baby spinach plants and an abundance of strawberries that we buried in grass cuttings to keep the moisture in and keep the birds off. Rocket is also readily available at the market this time of year, so I have used these ingredients as a base for this refreshing salad.
I made a dressing for the spinach and rocket using oil infused with mint from the garden and fresh lime juice with a hint of dried chilli from last summer’s crop. Finally I topped it with the freshly picked strawberries, slices of avocado and crumbled it with feta cheese.
This makes an appetising started or can be served as a side dish.

Bon appetite!

Bookish Corner

In this issue, I’m sharing two remarkable memoirs. The first caused havoc with my emotions, and the second had me stunned at the accomplishments of the couple concerned. Here’s my first. Keep those tissues to hand, you might need them.

Alyson Sheldrake:

Kat the Dog: The remarkable tale of a rescued Spanish water dog

This is a gripping story of triumph over adversity for a young Spanish water dog. Kat starts life in a harsh environment, suffering unimaginable cruelties at the hands of her brutal owner, before taking her opportunity to flee. She embarks on a journey that will ultimately change her life forever.

Was it because the tale is told by Kat herself? Or because the author’s skilled writing set my emotions on such a rollercoaster ride? It’s likely to be a combination of both.

The author’s wonderfully expressive descriptions range from guttural and heartrending to delicate and sensitive. At times I was moved to tears; at others, I giggled and said ‘aww!’ – all the ingredients of a great book. Having read this extraordinary story, just like Alyson Sheldrake, I fell in love with Kat too.
TYT Alyson Sheldrake Kat the Dog
(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)

My second recommendation takes you to a wine-growing region of France. You'll be amazed at what goes on in the sleepy Dordogne!

Caro Feely:

Grape Expectations: A Family's Vineyard Adventure in France (Caro Feely Book 1)

Enjoying wine is second nature here in France. But what does it take to produce a perfect vintage? This no-frills memoir gave me the answers.

An Irish couple moves to the Dordogne. Realising their dream, they buy a vineyard in financial trouble only to find that they have taken on more than they bargained for. And it’s tough on them all. Caro takes the reader on a detailed journey, describing the challenges in renovating their dilapidated farmhouse whilst learning to become wine-makers.

I was fascinated by the gritty realities and sheer hard work needed to make their vineyard a going concern. I was also hugely impressed. I suspect that many others in a similar situation would have given up. Amazingly they struggle on whilst bringing up their young daughters and integrating into their local community. I was engrossed by the book and look forward to reading more about Caro’s life.
Grape Expectations_COVER.indd
(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)

Et voilà!

With the summer solstice behind us, the fête season is underway here in France. If you’ve read Fat Dogs Part 5, you’ll know that our local village holds a decidedly heathen event towards the end of June. It is called des feux de la Saint-Jean, commemorating the birth of John the Baptist and the pagan Summer Solstice festivity. Both carry the symbol of light, which makes this a bright, fiery celebration.
dancing around the fire-2
Almost everyone from our village gets involved in the fête preparations. Catering, bonfire building, table set up, witch creation, it all has to be done. The witches are positioned high on the bonfires and burnt as fireworks light up the night sky. It’s a spectacular way of banishing evil spirits and blessing the harvest.
While Jack and I couldn’t attend the evening this year, that didn’t stop us from helping beforehand. My job was table decorations. With unlimited access to wood, friendly farmers growing wheat, and lavender in the garden, I had all the resources I needed for my creations.
(With Bruno's help, Elodie tries the witches hat for size!)
I’m not especially arty, but with a simple, rustic theme, my kit did the job acceptably well. We wished everyone ‘Bon courage!’ and left them to their evening. Covid may still lurk in the wings, but that didn’t stop rabble-rousers from delighting in the lighting-up ceremony. It was another brilliant success. Events like these are heartwarming examples of how little communities work together to celebrate rural life in the southwest.
Flowers mixed use
As it happens, I managed to sneak in a different fête during May. The Fête des Plantes de La Salicaire is a plant exposition run by horticultural specialists in our closest baby town. When I mention this lovely fair, Jack always gives me one of his special looks. He’ll steadfastly refuse to go, reminding me that our garden is ‘already stuffed full of bloody plants.’ Honestly, my husband has no imagination!
Sali 1-2
And so I’ll nip over with a friend to mosey around endless stalls filled with pristine plants. This year was no different. We chatted to expert growers, bumped into pals, and stopped for that essential café before being wooed by even more stunning blooms. And working on the premise that one can never have too many plants in one’s garden, guess what? I didn’t return empty-handed.
Sali 2-2
And to end on a flowery note, if you chat with me on Facebook, you’ll know that I built a tallish planter a couple of years ago with Nathan’s help. It enables me to stack plants and play around with different designs. This year I decided to pay simple homage to France. Can you guess what this is supposed to be? It had Jack flummoxed, Max too!
Until next time, depending on where in the world you live, I hope you have a wonderful summer/winter!

Hugs from us all,
Beth - logo - cropped for newsletters
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