NEWSLETTER – JULY 2007

 

THURSDAY

 

That glorious afternoon of my arrival at Avril’s at the beginning of June seems an age away.  Here on the Somme, like most of the United Kingdom in recent weeks, it has done little but pour with rain.  Today, I am sat in Avril’s kitchen, glancing out at a sky that is manifestly grey.  However, it would be unfair to say that this is the best weather available.  Over the last few days, whilst there have been many very angry clouds passing overhead, some allowing their rain to cascade down upon the unfortunates caught out in exposed places, there has been enough blue sky and sunshine for several of the residents to betray signs of ‘catching the sun.’

 

In what is a monthly edition of Avril’s newsletter, the main focus will be upon the events of 1st July.  As you may recall from the end of the previous edition, Avril was going to open up her barn adjacent to Rue Delattre, in order to accommodate the availability of baguettes and beer to those who wished to pass the time of day here, and listen to the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band.  The day’s success was ensured by the weather, which was fabulous.  After the tribulations of the end of June, this was most welcome.  The Pipe Band had been present at the Lochnager service at 7.30am, and also at Thiepval two or three hours later.  They then came on up to Avril’s, and played for a hour before lunch, and then partook of refreshments to set themselves up for the rest of the day.  After a longer rendition of their music during the early afternoon, the Pipe Band then attended the service at Newfoundland Park, which was not until 4pm.  A friend of mine, who had read the June newsletter remarked to me how good the idea of beer, a baguette and pipe music seemed.  I imagine that everyone who was lucky enough to be here on the 1st July would have been in agreement.

 

 

Avril has a long association with the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band, right back to her earliest days of her living at Number 10.  Way back then, in 1992, Cathy and Mark were still both of school age.  They joined the Pipe Band, Cathy playing the pipes, Mark beating out the rhythms on drums.

 

 

 

 

 

In the picture, Cathy can be standing third from the right, and Mark is next to her, standing fourth from the right.

The photo was taken during the mid-1990s.

However, the band was struggling to find a place to practice – not everyone is a lover of pipe music, particularly in the practicing stage.  Avril came to the rescue, and offered the use of her home.  This offer was gladly taken up, and over the following years, the melodies of the pipes floated away through the surrounding area, disturbing no one.  As time went by, and Avril’s knowledge of the wartime happenings around Auchonvillers grew, the music that was played made her mindful in particular of the efforts of the 51st Highland Division in taking Beaumont-Hamel.

 

In the best of worlds, one good turn deserves another.  In this case, the crucial time came in 1996.  By this time, there were two problems unavoidably entwined.  The floor of the lounge was collapsing, and as most that have been residents here will know, that meant it would eventually fall onto the cellar ceiling, which was already unstable.  A major disaster was imminent.  As usual, cash to deal with such events was in short supply.  At this juncture, the members of the Pipe Band stepped in and saved the day.  Between them, the floor was taken up; bricks were pushed back into the structure of the cellar, the walls strengthened, the ceiling sealed, making the whole structure safe for practical use and for posterity.  In the process, the cellar entrance that now goes into the trench was discovered, and opened out, thereby giving Avril evidence that she did indeed have a trench in the back garden.  Sand and cement had to be delivered from Miraumont on a daily basis, as the weather was so cold any supplies left from one day to another would have frozen beyond use.  One member of the band called Daniel did all the necessary tiling.  Starting on Boxing Day, he worked every day for a fortnight, sometimes from 9am to 9pm, charging only for materials.  A wonderful gesture, for which Avril was really grateful; even so, the bills incurred took six months to clear.

 

Avril has always considered this sequence of events to be the real turning point in the life of her establishment.  The farmhouse itself had been made safe, as had the main attraction of the complex, the cellar.  The trench had been discovered, which as we know, has led to its detailed excavation, and the chance for all of us to experience the feel of an original communication trench.  Incidentally, the latest renovation of the trench is due to take place within the next few months.

In consequence of all this history, Avril was only too happy to have the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band play here, and stand them lunch; the celebration of a mutually beneficial alliance.

 

To start this newsletter’s wildlife section, a view of how some of the incubated chicks are getting on.  You will remember that one little fellow made his bow in this world as I was sat in this very same spot in the kitchen.  Within a few more days, more chicks made an entrance until there were four that Avril had reared through using her incubator.  One literally left things until the last possible moment.  Avril was sorting the eggs out at the sink, basically looking to throw all of them away, when something stirred inside one of the eggs, and so that one, and a few others were immediately returned to the incubator.  It wasn’t long before another chick appeared.  However, the next step was to place the incubator chicks under a hen for her to take them on as her own.  Our original incubatee was found in the hen house away from ‘Mum’, and Avril thought he was dead.  On her return a few hours later, he showed signs of life, and with a bit of extra TLC, yet again he returned from the dead.  All four incubatees have progressed well, but there is yet another problem.  Their new ‘Mum’ is currently not a well chicken, and the quartet are largely foraging on their own.  However, they don’t run much risk from the cats and other animals around, as the mother hens are extremely vicious, and so those that might be inquisitive keep their distance as of habit.  It may well be that ‘Mum’ has exhausted herself looking after her brood.  Anyhow, she is just sitting under one of the bushes, looking on as the chicks make their way around the garden.

Naturally a picture or two of said four chicks would be desirable at this stage.  That turned out to be rather easier said than done, as getting all four subjects to keep together for long enough to capture them all in one photograph was a little tricky.  However, to some degree at least, I have been successful…

A little worrying perhaps, that they are out between Sam’s Abode and the car park, but otherwise they seem fit, and can certainly shift when the moment requires it.

 

Sam’s Abode is also in line for a complete overhaul later this year.

  

  

 
Our little hero, Larry the lamb, continues life in his own inimitable fashion.  There have been yet more scares, some that I’m afraid the censor has forbidden me to make public, but he is still striving.   Definitely a larger figure than a month or so ago, he is just about making a little use of his bad leg.  He is feeding himself on the

grass much better, so that his milk top-ups from Avril now take place rather less frequently than before.  As mentioned in the previous newsletter, if he survives, Larry will become resident ram at Avril’s, so he has a lot to live for!

 

Bonnie, the labrador, is proving quite a handful.  Boy, has she recovered from her broken leg!  She seems really strong, particularly when on the lead.  When let free on her walks, she streaks into the distance in a matter of seconds.  Meanwhile, the cats seem to go on with life at their usual pace.

 

The very hot and then very wet weather has brought the garden along on a timetable a month or two ahead of the norm.  Consequently, the cherries are all over and done with, likewise the poppies that gave such a marvellous show in the last newsletter.  Over the last day or so, Avril has turned her attention to the trimming of the hedges at the front of her property, including the famous privet hedge.  This is a work in progress, and what has so far been achieved has been met with general approval.  Indeed, since this is the first time that the hedges along the front have been trimmed, it doesn’t look too bad a job at all.  Avril is pleased that she now has a much better outlook across the road, and that her garden is that much easier to enjoy from walking along the road.

 

Here are a couple of photos taken just minutes ago, before Mark sets to work on the lilac bush, which Avril has decided has to make way for the good of the pond area.

 

      

 

 

                                    

                

 

The intention is that there will be an ‘after’ picture to compare with later on in the newsletter.

 

As you can probably tell from the above pictures, it is still a rather grey day.  Worse than that, the rain has started once again.  Rather than one of the huge downpours to which we have become accustomed over the last weeks, it is precipitating in the form of a gentle yet relentless drizzle.

 

 

 

     

 

 

  It is certainly enough to dampen one in body and spirit.

 

Despite the gloomy kind of day we’re having, Avril’s flower-baskets and window boxes still put on a fine show…

 


 

I have taken close-ups of the baskets either side of the main door as Avril is particularly pleased with how these flowers are progressing.  She bought some different containers for these two shows – more like hanging pots than baskets.

As you can see from the photo on the left, the pot has a special notch halfway down, through which you pour the water, rather than trying to shower the plants from above.  This is far more economical with water, allowing the plants to appreciate every drop, and makes the watering operation much easier to boot.  Avril feels that she is getting much better results from this different system, so although the pots are more expensive than the regular plastic baskets, she is determined that she will get the pots for all her hanging plants.

 

SATURDAY

 

As ever at Avril’s, new stories happen almost daily!  And now there is one particularly piece of good news.  On Friday morning, Avril was at last able to secure a means of having enough money at her disposal to buy Andre’s collection for the proposed museum.  This has been a huge problem to Avril over the last few months, and consequently the museum, and the Wall of Remembrance projects have not gone on as fast as she would have liked.  But now, the biggest obstacle has been cleared, and Avril can set things rolling with confidence.  There lies ahead an absolutely massive amount of work, and as she has set herself the target of things being ready by 1st July next year, there’s absolutely no pressure whatsoever!

 

Today has been Bastille Day, and carrying on the tradition of the last couple of years, Avril and I walked down Rue Delattre to take on the village’s best, and hopefully less good, in the annual petanque competition on the square.  Due to a lot of the local farmers not having time to spare at the moment, the usual field of about ten pairs was reduced to three.  Our first game was against potential French National Champions if ever I saw any, which we duly won 21-11.  If by any chance you might hear the truth, we’d better admit that the FNC were in fact a boy and girl from the village aged about 11 and 12!  Still, we don’t play from one 14 July to the next, so we regard any victory as noteworthy.

 

There are certain benefits to playing your sport in France.  In the UK, one might be given a quarter of an orange at half-time.  Here in Auchonvillers, Avril and I were plied with a glass of champagne in the village hall before things got underway, and now as we waited for our second and most crucial match against two men of the village, once again we were invited to have more champagne, this time in a plastic cup (well, we were at pitch side).  Avril and I thought our best tactic at this particular time would be to sip our drinks slowly, so that the opposition might have time to imbibe a hopefully detrimental amount of the bubbly, thereby evening things up.  As I staggered to the big game, I thought maybe the tactic had backfired…   

 

So the big game was on.  A shortened game, first to eleven points, began ok as we only conceded single point ends.  There were a couple of snags, however.  The first was that the opposition were throwing a very good leading boule (not sure of the precise terminology), up to only a few millimetres from the jack.  This really put the pressure on us, and we reckoned that we did well to keep the score down to only one point per end.  The second problem was that although it was only one point per end, there were rather a lot of them.  Consequently, the Ocean Villas team found themselves 4-1 down.  Then disaster struck, when we conceded all four points in one end.  Before we knew what was going on, we were 10-2 down and teetering on the edge of the precipice.  Centre stage was then given to the best comeback seen on the square in recent years.  Two really profitable ends yielded two and then all four points in our favour.  10-8!  But alas!  As the Ocean Villas pairing were of British descent, it was inevitable that we would have to be content with a ‘nearly’ comeback.  We lost 12-8.  However, this qualified us as runners-up overall, so Avril and I came back home armed with a trophy each, and a bottle of cider and a loaf of Brioche bread to boot.  We carried our heads high in the knowledge that though there was a paucity of opposition, we had played well during both matches, for longer periods than has been the norm.  All in all, a very pleasing Bastille Day afternoon.

 

And so, although as we all know it is unwise to presume that nothing else noteworthy will happen before the newsletter is finished, all that seems necessary to add is a few more photos.  First, a picture of the pond area with the drastically reduced in size lilac bush.  Then a photo of our little hero Larry, tucking into the latest milk delivery.   It’s great news to relate that he is now constantly using his right front leg at every available opportunity.  Last month, he was only dragging his bad leg along, this time he presses it to the ground in every stride.  And lastly, a close up of our favourite lamb après nosh.