The return of the kestrels to Entre-deux-Eaux – April 2022

The kestrels returned on 13 April and have visited the nest every day since. It could be several weeks before any eggs are laid. The eggs are usually laid at 3-4 day intervals. It is only after 3-5 eggs are laid the birds will start sitting.

11 May update – four eggs have now been laid – on 3 May, 5 May8 May, and 10 May

I made some changes to the window sill nest to enclose it but now regret not having had time to review the layout and new camera positions properly before we went to Letchworth at the end of March. I was doubtful the kestrels would return and did not put a camera outside the nest as I had originally intended (it is still in the box). The cameras are connected to network server in E2E and I can access them remotely.

I now have one camera live streaming feed on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmcJ1sezE3so41txXy4w86w/live The feed occasionally fails and I have to restart it.

Both the female (falcon) and the male (tercel) (easy to identify differences) are visiting the nest more frequently now, especially in the early morning. The camera times are French time (GMT+2)

There is a 2022 kestrels web site with regular updates of daily photographs and videos

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The 2021 kestrel web site https://www.blackmores-online.info/Kestrel/index.html pages and 

Our unexpected kestrel visitors – first update

Sullen skies over Entre-deux-Eaux, December 2021 to mid-March 2022

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2022no1.pdf (five A4 pages)

Some photographs have links to more images and
there are also links to photographs in the text

Saharan sandy sky

Saharan sandy sky

On Tuesday 15th March the sky turned a lowering shade of dirty yellow, and the car windscreen wipers had to work hard to clear the windscreen of large sandy splodges. Car wash facilities later did a good trade. Saharan sand was blowing north on the Sirocco as it did in February 2021. The skies have not, of course, been leaden throughout winter here but there have been a lot of dull grey days. So occasional days of sun and recent spring flowers have felt glorious.

Hard on the heels of our December newsletter, the new Omicron strain of Covid caused the re-introduction of travel restrictions and uncertainty over ease of re-entry to France. We were touched by the sympathetic and supportive response of family and friends to our reluctant decision to remain in Entre-deux-Eaux over Christmas despite having booked our Eurotunnel ticket. The post office in Saulcy-sur-Meurthe was the main beneficiary as we bought up all the stamps for European destinations they had in stock for our Christmas cards. For once we were glad that UK shops stock up with Christmas food unseasonably early, as we had bought some mince pies in October (some for Helen’s Brain Teaser group), so consoled ourselves with coffee and the last mince pies the group had not eaten.

Peruvian angels and branches

Peruvian angels and branches

Our thoughts then turned to long distance Amazon Christmas present orders, Christmas decorations for here rather than there, and finally French Christmas fare. We didn’t find any holly in the orchard or forest, so picked the deep pink spindle, white honesty, aromatic sage, rosemary and lavender from the garden, added pine cones and branches from the forest, and later found clusters of low-hanging mistletoe outside the book village, to arrange round the candles, plaster Peruvian angels and kings, and in a wreath on the door.

A few days before Christmas we raided our classy local freezer shop, Thiriet, for some treats over Christmas and New Year. From the entrée section we selected some prawn pastillas, guinea fowl and foie gras pastillas, and scallop and salmon parcels. Crispy prawns and prawn nems came from the exotic Chinese-cum-Thai cabinet, and from the dessert section we chose a box of creamy Paris-Brest and some Arabica coffee, chocolate and whisky confections. We already had a guinea fowl stuffed with foie gras in the freezer, carrots, parsnips, curly kale, and Jerusalem artichokes (delicious mashed with garlic) from the garden, and some favourite wines in the “cellar” – better known as the barn. At the Belgian supermarket we had found Brussels sprouts, actually labelled from Brussels. And to round off, we had some boxes of chocolate and John’s Christmas cake that we would no longer taking to England. So we were all set for several days, if not weeks of feasting, especially with the addition of our pickles to the left-overs (we were glad to find an old jar of pickled walnuts on a shelf in the barn, a delicacy that we have never seen in shops here).

Dickens' London jigsaw puzzle

Dickens’ London jigsaw puzzle

Before we opened it on Christmas Day, we thought that the light (so not books) box that had arrived from Ann and Derek might contain crackers, but were delighted to find hours of entertainment in the form of a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of Dickens’ London. So, despite the dull, damp and rather nasty weather, we had bright lights indoors, a fridgeful of food, and books, crosswords, football on TV and the puzzle to allay the sadness of not being with the family.

A village decoration

A village decoration

At the start of January we saw two of our neighbours who were out walking after an exhausting festive period with all their family visiting – between them they had ten grandchildren and their parents to entertain. They confirmed that the mayor’s annual New Year greetings (a speech followed by champagne and nibbles) had been cancelled due to the alarming rise in Covid cases. The January and February club reunions, including the popular January lunch, of village oldies had also been cancelled, as had all group gatherings for galette des rois and champagne.

Village lunch for the oldies

Village lunch for the oldies

And the lunch offered by the mayor and council for the village oldies was, like last year’s, delivered to our door. The festive lights and merry decorations around the village seemed to get taken down earlier than usual, well before Candlemas.

As the French hospitals filled up with Covid cases (85% of whom were unvaccinated) there were protests in the larger towns over Macron’s remarks about making life difficult for people who were refusing vaccinations. At the same time we were hearing about Downing Street parties (or work meetings), Djokovic’s attempts to circumvent Australian policies to play in the Australian Open, and Boris’ plans to relax restrictions over mask wearing, working from home, self-isolation and border tests.

Leila and her friends had decided before Christmas that their plan to take a winter break in Berlin might be better changed to the Lake District. But soon after their arrival at the rented house, she wrote that on the day before they had a booking for Sunday lunch at l’Enclume (promoted from two to three Michelin stars a few weeks later) she was feeling very coldy and had tested positive for Covid. As she had only just started to feel better after long Covid, we were concerned, but it does not seem to have lingered for too long. John got pinged by his Covid app here to say that he had been in contact with someone with Covid, but decided it was probably someone at the far end of a supermarket as nothing developed. But it did mean we delayed plans for a restaurant meal. France did not start to relax restrictions until 14th March. The next day we heard that both the mayor and his deputy have Covid.

As we continued to hear of difficulties in the UK over getting face-to-face GP appointments, we were glad to report that here consultations remained possible. But we were affronted to discover, when we rang for routine check-ups, that our much appreciated GP had retired a week or two earlier without our knowing. Apparently he’d started telling patients in October of his departure but we’d not seen him since August.

With twenty minute appointments (which usually ended up being much longer) we had always chatted about language and travels when we’d dealt with health issues, and his health advice, including negotiating the French system, was thoughtful too. Although we knew that he and his partner who had set up the practice together, were looking around for eventual replacements, and were reducing their hours, we didn’t expect it to happen just yet. He looked far to young and fit to go now. But it seems that the forthcoming birth of twin grandchildren in the south of France had influenced his timing. So we saw a new, young, fast-talking colleague, who assessed our records and made all the necessary on screen changes for him to become our médecin traitant. We just hope he slows down a bit in his speech. We did, however, still have the luxury of twenty minute consultations – and he was not running horribly late (we always used to take a good book for the long waits before our appointments).

The next day John was able to get an emergency dental appointment for a painful tooth and was chastened by the stern rebuke he got for his long absence. Thinking she had better make an appointment with her dentist in the same group practice, Helen discovered that he, like our doctor, had decided it was time to retire, and was fully booked until his last day. She was given a date four months ahead with his successor. For some reason one expects these pillars of the community to be around for ever. Even the priest, Pere Eric, who served Entre-deux-Eaux (on rotation among many other local villages) and took Madame Laine’s funeral, has gone back to Burkina Faso.

Talking of Madame Laine, I wonder what happened to all of her husband Pierre’s hunting trophies after their daughter modernised and moved into her parent’s house? The heads hung all round the dining room walls, the largest being a stag. Who now goes after the local boars, as Pierre and his pals regularly did? Many of the older village hunters have gone. But somebody must. When we discussed, with our neighbours, the main dish delivered by the commune as part of the Christmas lunch to our doorstep (along with 2 half bottles of wine each, nibbles, starter, cheese and dessert) we decided the unlabelled meat was probably boar.

Woodpecker work

We have not seen any of the local deer this winter. Before Christmas John was forced to line a gap under the eaves with bricks as a green woodpecker was busy drilling through the wooden boarding into the attic. Was it the same woodpecker who had bored so many holes into the telegraph pole opposite that ENEDIS had to replace it and another recently?

Our last resident in the attic, apart from mice, had been the stone marten several years ago. We recalled it when Jessica talked on the phone about the hole in the wooden shingle roof of her house in Broadstairs and John suggested it could be caused by a marten rather than squirrel. There were some local Kent newspaper reports from earlier in the summer of a marten being spotted. The local pest control were puzzled by the unusual scat that they found. It turned out that a couple of pine martens had indeed escaped from the Wildwood Trust outside Canterbury. The Wildwood Trust seemingly have plans to reintroduce them into Kent. Have the residents been told of the damage martens can do, including killing chickens and gnawing car electrical wiring (which is a significant problem in Germany?) Despite the damage they cause they are a protected species both here and there. Nevertheless, here the local farmers are known to shoot them.

But let it not be thought that we are heartless about wildlife. One morning in February we saw a slinky white ermine sniffing round near one of our old woodpiles, although we have not seen one since or in the previous twenty years (and unfortunately did not have enough time to photograph it).

A couple of weeks ago we went to Colmar to purchase a small window which John fixed on the wall in the attic in front of the opening where the kestrels nested last year. In the hope that they might return this year, he put in a wood base with a special sill with a ledge to prevent eggs and chicks from rolling (or being pushed) off. To complete the welcome he added some woodchips and sawdust. So we hope they will be tempted. Some have already returned to established sites in Alsace and further north in the Vosges.

As we crossed the col de Bonhomme to pick up the window, John noticed that a lorry with a Lithuanian registration plate also had a notice saying “I am not going to England” (presumably to discourage stowaways?) On a less sad note than the lorry, as Helen’s brain-exercise group were deploring the Ukrainian situation, Martine added that her 39-year old son, who works in Germany, had for the first time brought a girlfriend home with him on a visit. He had not mentioned that she is a Ukrainian who has also been working in Germany. There was a panic as Martine wondered a) what food to cook for her and b) what language they could use to communicate with a girl who spoke German and Ukrainian (which they do not) but not French. They had to resort to rusty English. And the tagine was appreciated.

Very creamy Vacherin

On the way to purchase the window, we stopped in Lapoutroie, a village on the other side of the Col for lunch at a hotel where we had not eaten for many years, – since 2005, in fact. Outside were large centenary exhibition photographs of scenes from the First World War, when Lapoutroie was German. Inside they still adhered to a sort of class system which separates those eating the cheaper menu of the day from those eating fancier fare. We had forgotten quite how much cream could be piled on Alsace desserts, but prudently asked for black coffees afterwards.

Other small items of news from here, are that we now have a new, larger garage door after the old one was rammed (possibly by an anonymous trailer) before Christmas. We have not yet replaced the smashed flower tubs, but the vegetable patches are covered in a layer of the cow dung we acquired as compensation from the farmer.

We should finally get a full fibre internet connection before summer (rather than by copper cable from the fibre junction box in the village), courtesy of a Grand Est-owned company which is cabling the villages, as they have been hanging fibre cable from the poles. Orange (France Telecom) has stopped supplying PSTN telephone lines. They will decommission all their copper cabling and their posts between 2026 and 2030. The new companies installing fibre cable have to install new posts where necessary. Ducting doesn’t seem to be affected. We spent a happy hour or two last week just standing on the doorstep watching two young men running a long length of fibre cable from the last electricity/telegraph pole (the new one opposite our front door) through a tube under the road to a manhole outside our garage, where it took a right angle and was edged into another underground pipe and drawn 100m through to the three houses at the end of our road.

Spring flowers

The last bit of good news is that the sun has come out this week, and in addition the snowdrops and hellebores we are enjoying the daffodils and oxslips in the orchard.

Moon 10 March 2022

First Quarter moon 10 March – click to open the series

 

With the clearer skies at night this month and the moon rising in the early evening, John has also been taking a series of photos of the waxing crescent to full moon phases. Long may the good weather last!

 

A change of plan – Christmas in Entre-deux-Eaux

This morning we have very regretfully decided not to travel over to the UK for Christmas and the New Year.

We were very much looking forward to spending time seeing family and friends.

However with increasing travel restrictions, testing requirements and the possibility of up to three-month delays in returning to France if we caught Covid and there was then a positive test result while we were in the UK, as Covid spreads in both countries, it seems wiser to stay at home. And although precautions are being re-introduced in the UK, the general public confidence in and compliance with government pronouncements seems limited (which makes it all so hard for everyone who complies with the health experts despite all political cynicism).

So we wish you all a very safe and happy Christmas and continuing health and happiness in 2022, and look forward to seeing you again in less difficult times.

 

Break-out from Entre-deux-Eaux, September-November 2021

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2021no4.pdf (six A4 pages)

Some photographs have links to more images and
there are also links to photographs in the text

This morning the snow was still lying on the fields outside, the postman delivered our first Christmas card, and aromas issued from the kitchen as John baked the alcohol-soaked fruit Christmas cake. So it seemed a good time to look back over the last three months, before Christmas activities take over.

As Covid travel restrictions start to be re-imposed, we are so thankful that we had the luxury of spending two months catching up with family and friends in the UK after eighteen months absence. At one stage of the confinement we had joked that we would have forgotten how to talk to other people, and it was a great pleasure to indulge once more.

We set out for Calais at 7.20 (early nowadays for us) on 8th September, clutching our negative pre-departure Covid test results, double vaccination certificates (passes sanitaires), and photocopies of the forms we’d been required to fill in. It was a hot day, and good to stop for coffees and refreshments. We were really struck by the contrast between the French service stations (with scrupulous hygiene, the need to show passes sanitaires before purchasing coffee and obligatory mask wearing) and the casual, mask-less and grubbier Dover one. Although the French roads had been busy with work traffic and lorries for the early part of the journey, the motorway between Reims and Calais was quieter than usual, with few UK cars. The coned-off approach to the tunnel check-in felt like a maze, but there were short queues when we made it, and we were able to board an earlier Eurotunnel train. We rarely take the tunnel but this time, as prices did not differ greatly from ferry fares, it seemed preferable to remain in our car rather than mingle in lounges and it took less time. So we reached our front door in Letchworth around 17.20. After clearing the dead leaves piled up against the front door, it was good to find the house surprisingly clean inside, apart from dead spiders and flies, and the fridge and freezer recovered and usable, thanks to Toby’s clearing up after it defrosted when the power cut off. It was good to see Toby and Farrah who came round to greet us a bit later. Toby had started a new job, Farrah had progressed from Year 7 to year 9 at school since we last saw them, and Toby was able to tell us about his visit to the secondary school in Melton Mowbray that Jacob will be going to next year, so big changes.

During our stay we heard more about Toby’s contract with a consultancy and current work for Pret a Manger. But he was very busy and also solicitous for our health, so protected us from the autumn coughs and colds that Jacob and Farrah inevitably brought home from school. Leila also planned to come and stay for several days while she was still on sick-leave with long Covid, but gave us a few days first to start sorting out the house and garden.

garden on arrival

garden jungle (link)

The garden, unattended for eighteen months, was the most urgent to tackle, while the weather was good, as the grass and weeds were rampant, the hedges and ivy unruly, and there were dead trees and shrubs to cut down and dispose of. The gardening firms John initially contacted on-line or by phone were fully booked until the end of October, even for an estimate. Helen accosted Bob the Gardener who was trimming a hedge further down the road, and he seemed keen, noted down all the details, said he and an older colleague could do it in a one or one-and-a-half days, and he would get back to us with confirmation of price and a date. He didn’t. Did he feel overwhelmed by the jungle? So when Dan, a contact through an internet trader website, visited to assess and offered us two men for half a day the following week, with more hours later, we accepted.

tamed garden

tamed garden (link)

And wow, didn’t Dan and James work hard! They had finished their morning job earlier than expected, so worked on our garden from 10.30 – 19.00, with frequent trips to the tip with branches from the hedges, shrub trimmings and dead trees. By the end of the day, we could see the end of the garden, the pavements outside were clear of our overhanging greenery and the house was considerable lighter after the removal of dead trees. The only minor disaster was the cutting through of an outside socket power cable, but Dan arranged for a mate to repair it a few days later. He departed, promising to invoice us from Majorca, where he was flying next day (and where we hope our prompt payment contributed to his holiday pleasures).

Leila was able to witness, from our sofa, this taming of the jungle. She was still getting very tired, and although we were able to do quite a few things during her visit, she still need to sit down and rest quite a bit. The first day, she was also nursing a wasp sting and we contented ourselves with quietly opening birthday and Christmas presents from last year! However, Helen appreciated her advice on a shopping trip to M&S, and we all went to the Collectors’ Market in Hitchin. Helen and Leila also picked up Jacob on the Friday, when he was still very chatty about his Year 6 activities, especially sports, at school that day. We also had fun trying out a French Asterix Monopoly game and finally playing the adult rules of the Train Game. (When Jacob was quite young he had loved seeing the trains criss-crossing the map of Europe on the board, and was desperate to join in, so we had invented some simpler rules).

The first two weeks of our stay had passed rapidly, and as well as the garden, John had tackled some house problems, replacing a leaking rotted rubber downstairs loo pan seal, planing down the bathroom door and replacing the handle, installing a Raspberry Pi power cut detector, and we also considered re-decorating the upstairs bedroom, but it got no further than discussion. Helen had been over-enthusiastic about cleaning and had broken the plastic mop bucket (but it had been outside in the sun all the time), so replaced it with a more durable metal one. On the health front, we had duly posted our required Covid PCR test in a mail box outside the Jordans Cereal building in Biggleswade within 48 hours of our arrival, and Helen had arranged eye, foot and hair appointments (though perhaps a hair appointment at “Dead Swanky” does not count as a health appointment). It was a first professional cut since the start of Covid and acting-hairdresser John clearly felt demoted. We later also booked an annual car-service and brake disc pad replacements for Snowy (despite the Toyota dealer’s receptionist insisting over the phone that our model had drum rear brakes).

With all that done, we were able to continue to tackle the garden renovation at leisure, weeding, doing further pruning and replacing dead plants. A local garden centre had reduced pots of clematis, honeysuckle, Russian vine and spirea, we’d brought over some wisteria grown from seeds, and Ann and Derek later gave us some pheasant berry plants and hellebore. We regretfully gave up on the invasive Russian vine, but hope the rest of the plants now feel at home and survive. We were also able to arrange for a Letchworth gardening firm to come in once a month for future regular maintenance. We could now turn our thoughts to catching up with friends.

This was not as straightforward as it sounds. Helen had been sorry to miss the wedding anniversary of Barbara and Paul so close to our arrival. Alistair e-mailed that Susan had been rushed to hospital a few days before their planned visit. The fuel-buying panic meant that Graham and Julia were unable to find any petrol or diesel in the Maidenhead area. But we were delighted to welcome Dilys, who’d discovered she could make it up from Eastbourne with only one change of trains and without having to cross between London terminals.

poppy field

Radwell Meadows poppy field

When Jessica stayed for a few days we enjoyed a couple of local walks, one of which included an unexpected colourful field of poppies while the other offered rolling views, wild hops and lavender fields.

Saka gold deer

Saka gold deer plaque, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (link)

We also drove with her to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the Gold of the Steppes exhibition.

As fuel problems eased, it was good to see Graham and Julia. Helen was also able to drive down to her cousin Kate’s funeral in north London. As their health problems had eased, we were glad that Barbara and Bruce came up from Winchester and Val could join us, and later Susan and Alistair were able to stop on their way to London at the start of November. Although we had all been living quiet lives, some coping with illness, and had few exciting events to recount, it was such a pleasure to meet up, share meals and chat with old friends.

We always enjoy spending time with John’s sister Ann and her husband Derek, so felt spoilt to see them not just once, but three times. We drove down to Tenterden to stay with them at the beginning of October and to finally take them out out to lunch, as promised, to celebrate their birthdays two months earlier. They chose The Pig at Bridge Place Hotel outside Canterbury, which, it turned out, had at one stage been the Bridge Country Club and had hosted legends like Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, the Barron Knights, Manfred Mann, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball. Copies of old posters in the loos were the only reminders of the glory days, the food was average and the room crowded and noisy.

Dymchurch sea wall

on Dymchurch sea wall

The following day we had a bracing walk in the sunshine and wind along the promenade at Dymchurch, avoiding the waves at high tide which crashed against and sprayed over promenade, then visited Sue, one of Helen’s first flat-mates in London in the sixties. Lunch was a pasta, a reminder of her many years spent in Reggio Calabria, and childhood memories of plum (from her garden) crumble.

John celebrated his birthday at the end of October with lunch (rather disappointing, works canteen-like) at Fergus Henderson’s starred St John restaurant in London with Helen and Jessica. Then Leila came to stay again, along with Ann and Derek. We were pleased to see that Leila seemed better than during her earlier stay. Friday mornings with us are incomplete for Leila without a trip to Hitchin and its Collectors’ Market, which Ann and Derek enjoyed too; but Leila rested next day while the rest of us walked across the fields to Ickleford village, where we paused for drinks in the timbered Old George before the return walk. On Sunday it felt as if we were making up for all the birthday and Christmas family celebrations we’d missed as Toby, Rachel, Farrah and Holly joined us and the nine of us we sat down to the splendid Sunday lunch that John and Ann had prepared, which was followed by either watching football or playing games. It was a shame that Jacob was not there to complete the party, but he had been at Toby’s the previous week during his half term and we had enjoyed spending time with him then.

evening view of the Thames

evening view of the Thames

Making up for the very quiet birthday celebrations of 2020, we booked dinner a couple of days later at the recently opened Ekstedt at the Yard restaurant. We took the train down as far as Blackfriars Station, which was much transformed since our London days from a soot-encrusted hulk to glass palace, with the train stopping part way across the Thames, giving splendid evening views of the illuminated buildings up and down the curving river. The walk along the Embankment brought back memories of our riverside explorations together after work back in the dim and distant past. We met up with Jessica in the lobby of the Great Scotland Yard Hotel and were ushered to a table in the dimly lit restaurant close to the noisy kitchen and open fire to await a series of Scandinavian style taster dishes. Courses like the seared smoked venison heart, allspice, lingon berries, parsley, mushrooms and shallots which were heated in butter at the table and served with flatbread, were tasty, but we found the serving of only two small cep souffles along with three pine needle ice cream/wild blueberries at the end to share between three of us very niggardly (especially sharing food in these Covid times; later correspondence has resulted in a return invitation).

Three days later, we were all packed up and setting out to stay overnight with Ann and Derek, before an early morning start for the Eurotunnel and drive back to Entre-deux-Eaux. It had been so good to see family and so many of our friends again.

Back here, it felt like a mirror image of things that had needed to be sorted out in the UK – garden, health and house. After harvesting squash, marrows, parsley and a few surviving autumn raspberries from the potager which had been neglected for two months, it was time to put pots and tubs of delicate plants like geraniums, fuchsia and hydrangeas to overwinter in the third barn, to wrap protection around the peonies, clematis and roses outside, and to bring in trickle watering pipes and garden furniture before the frosts and snow. There were leeks, carrots, beetroot and parsnip to dig up when required and some curly kale.

We also needed to catch up with health appointments, starting with our Covid booster and flu jabs. We had collected our flu vaccines from the pharmacy, who said the Covid centre could do both at the same time, and the receptionists and doctor at the centre said the same. However, the nurses at the centre didn’t want to give the two at once, but wouldn’t say why, just “I don’t agree with it”, while insisting that they were only there to do Covid (one suspected the problem was lack of payment for extra work rather than health concerns), and that they didn’t have enough staff to give both to everyone (as we watched the three nurses standing chatting with no patients during our 15 minute “recovery” period).

That evening the French Prime Minister announced that over 65s would have their passe sanitaire cancelled on 15th December if they were eligible for a booster dose six months after their second injection but had not had it. This would mean they would not be able to go to restaurants, bars, cultural events etc. without an additional test. Booking slots for booster injections, many of which had been free when we booked, immediately filled up and are currently still hard to obtain, especially since the age group has been extended.

overturned flower pots

overturned flower pots (link)

Thank goodness we had got some of the flower tubs into the barn. On 11th November, as church bells tolled for Armistice Day, we opened the front door to find that six of the remaining plant tubs had been overturned during the night, with soil, plants and plastic fragments scattered across the tarmac strip between the house and road. What was upsetting was that no one had stopped to apologise or left a note during that day or the next so we reported it to the mairie, who said there had been no similar vandalism reports and suggested we contacted the gendarmerie in Fraize. After filling in the appropriate form online, we were summoned to Fraize where a trainee gendarme laboriously filled in another form with the same information. Not a good advert for the local policing, especially as they then said that they couldn’t do anything if we didn’t know the perpetrator(s)!

Six days after the event, Helen was clearing up all the earth, retrieving and replanting the tubs’ contents in remaining pots, and gathering up the shattered fragments of plastic, when the farmer, who had been roaring past all morning in his tractor with spraying tank attached, stopped and said rather sheepishly that it was he who had caused the damage, and offered to pay. (Had our mayor warned him that we had filed papers with the gendarmes?) As the pots were quite old, and village trade tends to be in goods rather than cash, Helen asked if he could let us have some manure for the vegetable plot instead. (Coincidentally, our neighbour in Letchworth had kindly given us some flower tubs that he no longer needed, though unfortunately they are still in Letchworth.)

Mediterranean shellfish, chickpeas, tomato, purslane and shellfish foam

Mediterranean shellfish, chickpeas, tomato, purslane and shellfish foam

We then concentrated on other medical appointments (audiology and cardiology), house needs like replenishing the heating oil, and pleasures like pensioners’ games and a restorative lunch at the l’Imprimerie. It was on the morning of the oil delivery, twelve days after the flower tub incident that John opened the door so that the approaching oil delivery lorry could uncoil its hosepipe and fill up our tank inside the barn. In front of the door was more earth and plants and an overturned tub. But worse was to be seen. The door of the adjacent garage had been bashed in and was hanging off its frame. So, after the oil delivery, it was phone calls to our insurers and the gendarmerie. A few hours later two gendarmes came out to inspect the damage and quiz a passing neighbour whether they’d seen anything or had another explanation. Then we had to go into the gendarmerie in the afternoon to lodge a formal complaint. Fortunately it was not the trainee who was doing the form-filling, but, after a long wait, one of the men who’d been out to look at the damage. A colleague of his rang the farmer who said he was not responsible this time. So we are left with a nasty feeling of persecution, a promise from the gendarmes to keep their eyes open, and the need to organise estimates for replacing the door.

The fortnightly Scrabble group that Helen has been going to for many years, has finally folded, but has now been replaced by a choice of games, like Rummikub, Triominos, cards and also “normal” Scrabble, which has proved more popular. On alternate weeks the Brain Teasers group continues.

So there were exercises to prepare and refreshments to provide when it was Helen’s turn to run the session a couple of weeks ago. It’s always a bit of a struggle, but hopefully the mince spices and chocolate spice biscuits at the end helped. It was dark coming back from this week’s games session, so Helen saw all the Christmas lights, starting with the all-blue Christmas tree lights in Sainte Marguerite, and finishing with a surprise on our road. The Laines’ daughter has inherited their old house and it looks as if she is out to win this year’s village competition for the best display. It is not restrained or colour-themed.

And, to finish on this festive note, this Sunday lunch time Saint Nicolas will visit the children of Entre-deux-Eaux at the village hall, while Saulcy and Sainte Marguerite hold their Christmas markets with their mix of tasteful and lumpy crafts, mulled wine and home-made cakes.

After a month back in Entre-deux-Eaux, we are now watching the evolving requirements and restrictions for coming over to the UK for Christmas (and returning in the New Year!) and will put details of our plans in the covering e-mail. Meanwhile, enjoy your Christmas preparations!

a November sunset before the snow

 

A very quiet summer in Entre-deux-Eaux, August 2021

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2021no3.pdf (four A4 pages)

There are links to photographs in the text;
some will lead to larger selections of photographs
including this link to
Our unexpected kestrel visitors

Like many of our retired friends, we decided to lie low in August while many families and younger people celebrated the long-awaited easing of restrictions by throwing away their masks and crowding to beauty spots, music festivals, protests and beaches. We were encouraged when the UK dropped the compulsory quarantine regulation for visitors from France in early August, but decided to wait and see if things had changed by September when pensioners like us traditionally tend to travel. Towards the end of August, with UK friends being offered postponed cruises (usually to somewhere other than the original destination), we decided that even if we would not cruise, we would at least cross the channel and spend plenty of time seeing family and friends at long last and also sort out the neglected Letchworth house.

You will have gathered that in the meantime we have had a lot of enjoyment from watching the kestrels from eggs through hatching into fluffy chicks, fighting over food, gaining feathers, flexing their wings, and finally flying. It was hard not to endow them with human emotions and characteristics.

ten days before leaving

John fretted when he felt the parents were neglecting to return sufficiently often with food and Helen worried that her pre-breakfast gardening in the potager below their nest was disrupting their routines. It was possible to imagine the parents worrying that the grey and black (gardening clothes colours) creature might spot them returning to the nest, unaware that the grey and black thing already knew where their nest was.

juvenile kestrels two days before leaving

One of the chicks seemed to grab most of the food when a parent delivered it and also to bully the other two – a bossy big brother? On August 12 the last one flew off. We had expected them to return to their ledge after their first flights, but they seemed to find more spacious perches in the trees.

Juvenile kestrels

One day, when we drove to Saint Dié after the surrounding fields had been cut and baled, we were surprised to see kestrels, buzzards and other raptors sitting on about one in ten of the bales between Entre-deux-Eaux and the crossroads. But a few days later there were none to be seen. They had probably caught every mouse and vole (and quite a few larger grasshoppers) that had rashly put in an appearance! We still see the kestrels flying from some of the local trees.

It was just as well that we had a distraction from kestrel-abandonment-syndrome the day after they had all flown off. We had booked lunch again at the Imprimerie. None of the other restaurants that we like seem to have changed their menu since we last went. As we drove into the book village, various stalls were setting up along the sides of the street. It was a weekend book fair which was due to start at 14.00, so we thought we’d look round after lunch, despite the hot temperatures. The laid-back waiter always has some minor grumble when we chat (on our previous visit he’d had three – firstly he had just had his first compulsory-for-restaurant-staff vaccination, secondly he was extra busy as the waitress was off following a car accident, and thirdly they would have to check each client’s pass sanitaire from the start of August to see that they had been doubly vaccinated, and he did not appreciate having to act as police when busy with their own jobs). However, by our August visit, the waitress was back, and she checked our pass sanitaire without any hassle and the waiter was enjoying talking to a lot of first-time customers and explaining how the eight-course surprise menu of small dishes works alongside a menu-of-the-day.

second vegetable course: smoked slice of beef tomato with goats’ cheese ice cream

We were ushered to our usual table, and a succession of delicious dishes began to appear. Chef Morgan Fady always produces new dishes including, this time, a delicious amuse bouche of beetroot macaroons filled with foie gras and blackcurrant conserve. There was a refreshing salad of green and yellow dwarf beans with apricots, and some absolutely delicious beef with a parsley béarnaise sauce. The fish, like the beef was cooked over the wood fire, which added a special flavour. We added a new word, baudroie, to our vocabulary, which a rather overweight young man sitting with his parents at the table opposite ours instantly translated as monkfish; his fluency was a surprise in the small village – as we chatted he used other non-standard-textbook words like “bragging” – but he turned out to be a visiting Parisian. We were even brought unsolicited coffee at the end, just as we like it – the waiter must have been mortified that last time that they had no milk in the fridge.

As we expected, it was hot looking round the bookstalls after lunch, but more bookshops than usual were open, and being in the old stone-walled houses and barns, their interiors were lovely and cool. But, despite looking at a book of La Fontaine fables illustrated by Chagall and one on Gothic architecture in the Vosges, no books came home with us.

Helen had been reading a couple of books which brought back pleasant memories. One, Le Grand Meaulnes came from a small flea market. We’d come across the grave of its author Alain-Fournier quite by chance on the day we’d driven with friends to a hillside spot, in fact an American First World War memorial, which was a good place to experience the total eclipse of the sun; it felt weird, as the cows all lay down, the birds became silent and the skies darkened; afterwards, en route to Verdun we saw a sign pointing into the woods which mentioned Alain-Fournier, whose death or disappearance as a soldier in the First World War had remained a mystery until 1991 when an archaeological excavation uncovered a communal grave in which Alain-Fournier and eighteen of his men had been buried in September 1914. The quiet glade was a more poignant testimony to the Great War than the huge scale of Verdun. The other August read was a different angle on the Second World War, through the Ajax football team in Amsterdam under German occupation, the fate of its many Jewish supporters and the complicity of the Dutch. But that book also brought back happier memories of one of our last pre-Covid trips, which was to Amsterdam in May 2019, for the Rembrandt and Hockney/Van Gogh exhibitions (and a dramatic Ajax v Spurs match on TV).

We also returned to Senones last week, to lunch at the Bon Gîte. The restaurant and small hotel had changed hands around July 2019, with the great grand-daughter of the original founder taking over with her partner as chef. The food was traditional and rather uninteresting to our taste. Senones was once the capital of the old principality of Salm, and had an abbey with a famous library and the castle/palace of the Counts of Salm, both of which were sold to textile industries after the Revolution. Being close to the German border in Alsace, Senones was severely affected in both world wars by bombardments and mass deportations. When we first went there, a certain charm lingered round the old centre; but this time, as we strolled round after lunch, we were saddened by how depressed and derelict it was looking. On our way, we had admired the restoration of the abbey and grounds in the nearby small town of Moyenmoutier, which since the demolition of its ugly factory buildings was now revealed in its full extent and magnificence. So it was sad to still see in Senones the collapsed roof, scaffolding, boarded-up window openings and barred gateway of the west block of the old chateau, and the drab factory garment shop in part of the abbey. With most of the shops closed (possibly because of holidays), the old town looked as if it was decaying away.

The kestrel parents may have feared being harmed by the resident humans, but it was in fact one of the humans who got injured. A few days after they flew off, John went into the attic to adjust the camera that had been knocked as they flapped their wings. You may remember that he had had to block the window opening with something more substantial that the polystyrene that the birds had been pecking away. The something substantial was the heavy back of an old bookcase, and he dropped it on his foot. A lot of blood, dirt and antiseptic later, his foot swelled and darkened, and shoes were impossible with the large cut and bruising. To add insult to injury, he must later have twisted round as he applied Arnica gel to the bruising, and his back went.

On the medical front, we realised that summer was a good time to have a doctor’s appointment. Since the disastrous heatwave and deaths of 2003, adequate medical services have to be provided throughout summer. But in summer 2021 a lot of customers had rushed off elsewhere, and our doctor’s waiting room was empty when John had an appointment in late July, so he did not have the usual long wait. And when Helen had a routine appointment in the middle of August it was with a young locum who called her in on the dot of the appointed time and ushered her out after the allotted twenty minutes consultation. It was interesting that, when she nosily asked if he preferred working in small villages or larger towns, he immediately replied that he liked small villages as people only came when they really needed a doctor, rather than for trivial complaints. And they listened carefully and followed advice. He was off to Corcieux next. What does that say about townies?

Medical services seem to be responding more slowly in the UK. Leila’s doctor has signed her off work again as her long Covid has meant that she was too exhausted and brain-fogged when returning to work full-time. After waiting a month for a phone assessment with the long Covid clinic, she was referred to SALT (Speech and language therapy for brain fog & loosing words), pulmonary rehab, rehab/falls (presumably for exercises) and something that sounded like fatigue mosaic. She has also seen a cardiologist for an ECG, with an echocardiogram to follow. Meanwhile she has sensibly been swimming and walking. But not an easy time.

Toby and family meanwhile were able to postpone their holiday in the south of France after the UK imposed amber plus quarantine restrictions, and booked a week in some very pleasant looking Airbnb accommodation on the outskirts of Pitlochry. Jacob gave us a video phone tour of the house, and Toby sent photos of canoeing and hill hiking. Unfortunately Toby had an unpleasant return to Letchworth, as he had to go up to our house where the power had been off for over a week and the fridge-freezer contents smelt awful – the main offender being some defrosted chicken. He turned on the trip switch and most things came on again. But he still had to return a few days later to dispose of the now-refrozen food on the evening before bin collection.

And now, with the amber-plus status of France reduced to amber, we can look forward to seeing all of the family again after such a long time, not to mention sorting out the house and garden. We have booked our crossing and Covid tests for next week.

Enjoyable as it will be to see all our friends, it will probably be worth giving us a week or so to impose some order on the long-neglected house!

Fireworks, floods and feathers: life in Entre-deux-Eaux, April – mid-July 2021

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2021no2.pdf (seven A4 pages)

There are links to photographs in the text and
some will lead to larger selections of photographs.
There are also these links to other recent photographs
Flora and fauna around the farmhouse May-June 2021
and
Frosty fritillaries

When we opened our front door at 10.10 pm on July 13 (and for those of you unfamiliar with it, our front door is not a grand plastic-panelled affair, but an old barn door of bare planks with gaps, tarted up with a knocker and lock), we could hear the thumping music from the village. We put on warm clothes and stout shoes and headed down the darkening road, through puddles where the stream and drains had overflowed. The 4 metre-wide lane looping up to the Duhaut and Vozelle farmhouses had been turned into a two-way Entre-deux-Eaux by-pass, with official yellow deviation signs, and to emphasize the yellow warnings of a road block 500 metres ahead, vehicles were parked across the road, barricading the village centre. “Not too good for emergency vehicle access”, John remarked.

It was the eve of Bastille Day, and the car park and road round the village shop-cum-bar had been taken over by crowded benches and trestles for feasting and games. By this time, the bouncy castle had been deflated to a flat skin across the road ready to be folded away, and people were shuffling towards the edge of the field. It seemed miraculous that the heavy rain had paused at just the right time for a village celebration culminating in fireworks. John set up his tripod by the field, and we watched shadows moving behind their torches, doing last minute checks on the fireworks.

an E2E firework

And then there was a five minute riot of colour and falling stars as multiple rockets were launched and burst and then abruptly ceased. The figures behind the torches moved up to inspect the launch site close-up and check that all the fireworks were spent, as we muttered, “we might need those emergency vehicles”. Many of us started to drift towards our homes or parked cars, exchanging greetings and answering queries about still being here despite or because of Brexit and Covid. However the music, so presumably celebrations, continued well after midnight, when we turned off our bedside lights.

This was the first village knees-up for a long time. Last year’s fireworks had been cancelled, the oldies had not met for cake-and-champagne for many months, there had been no New Year champagne and nibbles or communal oldies lunch. So despite the damp, cool evening, everyone was making the most of it. With school term ended, the children could stay up late and the summer holidays had a cracking start. The following evening we watched some of neighbouring St Leonard’s fireworks. But by then the rain had returned, so we were glad to be warm and dry indoors, watching at a distance through windows. And what colourful puffballs lit up the sky and cascaded stars.

Like Boris, Macron had been anxious to relax restrictions in time for the electorate to rush lemming-like towards the south and fondly remembered holiday sunshine. However, on the day that the ever-optimistic Boris was expected to announce, despite others’ caution over increasing cases, that masks would not be compulsory, the more prudent Macron was forced by a similar increase and the low uptake of vaccines (including, worryingly, among health care professionals) to announce that vaccination would be compulsory from September for nursing and non-nursing staff, carers and aids, that certificates proving vaccination would be compulsory in bars, restaurants and on trains from August, and that free PCR tests (which the French were tending to use instead of vaccination) would no longer be free in autumn. The next day there was a mad rush to book vaccination appointments for everyone over 12, though 12-17 year olds have since been exempted from the vaccination pass entrance requirements as it became obvious it would cause problems for parents. Meanwhile we have been waiting for Boris to relax the quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated Brits abroad returning to the UK. But the British government has just announced that, although France will remain on the orange list, quarantine and testing will still apply to the fully vaccinated, due to concerns over the low AstraZeneca vaccine efficacy against the beta/South African variant.

The Sainte Marguerite pensioners were feeling more optimistic, and e-mailed start dates for their activities, – not until September because of the sacred two-month holiday period (when they might need to look after grand children). The physical exercise group will all have to arrive fully kitted out (so no changing-room gossip) and with their own mats and to disperse immediately afterwards without lingering indoor chats, and the mental exercise group met to plan their autumn campaign. Helen went along to the planning meeting of the latter, where the first mental exercise was to work out how to get into the meeting room. A passing community policeman solved the problem by blowing on the swipe card, and then it worked! Once inside, half the group of six wore masks and the remaining three did not. Interesting. And why could they sit and chat, but not the gymnasts? An hour and a half was spent catching up on gossip, ten minutes on planning, and a quarter of an hour on word and number exercises similar to Countdown (known here as Des chiffres et des mots). Let’s hope the programme does not get cancelled by the predicted post-holiday Covid increase.

On a rare sunny day, we started to think about a short break in an area of France that we don’t know and bought the Michelin guide to Limousin and Berry with the area round Bourges in mind. However, with wet weather, apart from the lucky break on Bastille Eve, the idea of trailing round in the rain has not been so appealing. Near Bourges are the areas that Alain Fournier and George Sand wrote about, so Helen is re-reading Le Grand Meaulnes, and is surprised how similar its pre-1914 village school sounds to the Entre-deux-Eaux school in the 1970s/80s, as recalled by the widow of the former school master. George Sand’s La Mare au Diable should be delivered shortly. Maybe the weather will improve and it will not be just armchair travel.

Looking back, the wet weather started a day or two after we had set up the watering system, got out the garden swing-seat and teak benches from their winter storage, and taken delivery of a large garden parasol. But at least we have not faced the severe flooding experienced earlier by flatter parts of the Grand Est, like Reims, or the present appalling floods across the border in Germany and Belgium. Our barn has only needed sweeping and drying out once. And after we cleared the drainage channel of mud, removed the bucket in the drain (to catch the mud) which was hindering rapid outflow, and put two rows of bricks in front of the gap at the bottom of the barn doors, we have had no further problems (fingers crossed). The difficulty has been finding a dry time for cutting the verdant grass and uprooting the luxuriant weeds.

A kestrel’s eye view of the fruit cage and potager

And talking of the garden, the rebuilt fruit cage is doing well, with its new netting and weed-reducing ground cover. It is remarkably sturdy. Helen got a tour of next-door’s new hen-house when she dropped round to get the details of their netting supplier. Theirs is an extensive, but less rugged, construction with indoor and outdoor areas to keep the hens safe by day as well as night from the marauding foxes, martens and buzzards which exterminated the previous hens. It sounds as if it has been restocked now. Our cage currently has a good crop of blueberries and raspberries. In other shady areas we have had more wild strawberries than ever before. Helen was crouching down picking them one day when a white van drew up, so, still clutching the bowl of tiny berries, she went to collect the Amazon parcel. “Are they for me?” the driver asked cheekily. But when offered some, he was most suspicious of these tiny unknown things, asking where they were from and whether he should wash them. In the vegetable beds, the peas, broad beans and lettuce have all flourished in the rain, the carrots thinnings are tasty, and the squash and courgettes are very leafy.

Deer by the orchard

The fauna has also flourished, with monster snails, fat slugs and slow-worms in the compost heap. Visiting deer (orchard) and a great-spotted woodpecker (balcony bird feeder) are more welcome sights. However, the vole population must be much reduced thanks to the presence of kestrels and their young in our attic window niche high above the vegetable patch. The kestrel saga, which many of you have been following through John’s daily photos and videos, began when Helen remarked idly on the quantity of polystyrene fragments floating down from above the farmhouse front door (this one a proper, panelled but peeling blue-painted wooden door). John went up to the attic and opened the low door through to the storage end, and discovered a round hole in the sheet of polystyrene blocking the small window opening (against messy owls, stone martens and from when the outside walls were sprayed in crépi).

Kestrel eggs

And four brown speckled eggs lay on the deep window recess. He researched and observed and decided it was a kestrel nest (well, hardly a nest as there was no straw or twigs, but just the bare ledge and bits of pecked polystyrene). He installed a camera linked to his computer (details below on the website), which he modified and tweaked, and is obtaining fascinating pictures.

It seemed a long wait before any sign of cracking or hatching and John fretted that they were getting too cold when the mother flew off for quite long periods. However on the twenty-fifth day of recording, July 9, his patience (and anxiety) was rewarded with the appearance of two baby chicks, one of whom was quite perky for a newborn, while the other seemed increasingly limp. Since July 2 we had not seen the male, who had previously visited occasionally and briefly, so hunger drove the female to leave the newborn chicks in the late afternoon in search of voles or lizards. When she returned we could see her prodding and shaking the inert body of her second hatched. Eventually she gave up and very practically began to consume it and feed bits (probably regurgitated) to her vociferous first born. The next day, July 10, the remaining two chicks hatched.

A surprise. The cock appears for the first time since 2 July

On the eve of Bastille, there was an excited yell from the attic as John had seen the male delivering a dead vole on the live video feed on his computer screen. Where had the cock been for the previous eleven days? Did they have a store-cupboard nearby that he had been stocking? There was an acrimonious incident with loud recriminations when he was about to take away his dead vole offering, as the female was still feeding another corpse to her fluffy white offspring.

kestrel chicks 17 July

John has toyed with the idea of inserting a wooden ridge across the front of the sill to prevent the balls of fluff from rolling or hopping off before they can fly, but decided it was cause too much alarm. You can see all the pictures and videos at https://www.blackmores-online.info/Kestrel/ During this time our TV screen has been showing an interesting mix of the live kestrel video feed (Chromecast), Wimbledon matches. European cup football and catch-up crime series (Line of Duty and Fargo).

Helen also watched quite a few matches from the French Open Tennis. Most games were played in front of very small audiences, but in the last week, more people were allowed to watch. However there was still an 11pm curfew. So there had to be a 10.30pm break to allow spectators to leave without disturbing players. But they got very involved in the exciting semi-final match between Nadal and Djokovic, and it seemed most unlikely that they would leave willingly. At the last minute, the French PM who was watching on TV phoned through permission for the spectators to stay on without incurring curfew penalties. Riots avoided! But how annoying for those with longer journeys who had left a bit earlier.

In case you are wondering if we still have books piled on the floor, following the problems with the underfloor heating that we mentioned in the last newsletter, the shelves are back in position and the books returned to them. It turned out the expansion chamber the plumber had replaced wasn’t working. It is a cylinder with rubber across the middle. The top fills with water and pushes the rubber down into the other half as it expands. The plumber had assumed the new cylinder was OK and thought there must be a leak in the underfloor pipe rather than a problem with his handiwork. The leak only required about 150ml of water to top up the system each day. John eventually noticed a drop from a valve at the back of the boiler. The drip, from the increased pressure, was slow enough that the water had evaporated so not been noticed. The plumber finally agreed the cylinder rubber must have had a hole, so all the cylinder had filled and there was no pressure relief (the same problem as the old chamber), so he replaced the replacement expansion chamber.

In fact there are more books on the shelves now as John and his sister between them ordered all the books on Helen’s Amazon list for her birthday. But buying anything from the UK since Brexit can be a problem as there are often import duties and additional customs clearance charges. (Amazon UK ensures all those charges are paid on ordering if the goods are those Amazon fulfils, but not necessarily those from the Marketplace.) There can also be problems with parcels disappearing after they reach France. Two of the book parcels went missing as well as some Vanish soap, which is not available in France. Being Amazon, refunds weren’t a problem and replacements arrived safely. Interestingly, John ordered a newly-published UK book from Amazon FR and, although the tracking showed it was sent from the UK, it was cheaper than a copy from Amazon UK delivered to a UK address would have been, despite the usual UK book discounts and the price maintenance on books in France. He also discovered that he could buy more Yorkshire tea from Amazon FR and 100% pomegranate juice from Amazon DE.

The pomegranate juice was an essential ingredient for John to cook Chicken Ottolenghi, a particular favourite, for Helen’s birthday dinner. It is one of the things we usually buy on visits to the UK. Only later did we discover just a couple of bottles in amongst all the 30% bottles in the Turkish shop in Saint Dié opposite the garden centre (where we had been looking for non-leaky Wellington boots for John).

old sapin qui pisse Raon-L’Etape post card

Before John started to prepare the chicken dish, the sun came out and we had a very pleasant walk along a shady forest track on part of the Kemberg massif we had not walked before. We followed an intriguing sign to Le sapin qui pisse. This turned out to be a fountain, which at an earlier date must have emerged for a pine tree that has since disappeared. They seem to have been popular forest features, and research revealed there is a better one near Raon l’Etape, which might make another interesting walk. After that, the chicken with its pomegranate juice flavouring was delicious, as was the coffee birthday cake indulgence.

Imprimerie – cuttlefish with carrot and citrus puree

We had continued with our Saturday evening set-menu dinners deliveries from l’Imprimerie, although most of the courses were less interesting, though larger, than those of his surprise menus at the restaurant. So we were pleased when restaurants were allowed to re-open in June and celebrated with lunch at l’Imprimerie on their first day, and enjoyed the more adventurous surprises, like the mushroom chawanmushi. They were hoping that in the evening they would get everyone served, replete and out before the 11 o’clock curfew, a pressure to which they were unaccustomed. The evening curfew ended on June 20, which was probably a relief for all restaurants. As well as worrying about the evening constraints, the waiter was having difficulty telling us about the wine, as he could not read the label on the back of the bottle; he confided that he now has glasses for reading but they steam up when he’s wearing his detested mask (an only too familiar problem!) so he’s not wearing them (glasses, not masks) at work. We, however, wallowed in the feeling of normal life, despite the masks.

Restaurants were only allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, with compulsory masks when not seated and no more than 6 at a table, so we were surprised that all the tables were in use at l’Imprimerie. However they are very well spaced, and it would previously have been possible to fit more tables in than they have. (They can only seat about 24 at the moment). A party of seven had obediently been accommodated on two well-distanced tables (though this meant there was noisy shouting between tables).

Chez Guth – glace de sapin

However, the 50% capacity rule was observed at Chez Guth, where we went the following week, taking a long detour as the usual road was closed (more yellow diversion signs). On arrival at the hillside chalet restaurant, we received a very warm welcome. They pride themselves on their foraged and seasonal ingredients, so were disconcerted (not to mention initially disbelieving) when John commented that it was still their old October menu on their website. So Madame checked and rang their website contact to complain bitterly as we chatted to chef at the end.

Frankenbourg – potato and broccoli balls

And the following week we ate at Toby’s favourite, the Frankenbourg, and toasted absent family and friends with whom we have enjoyed meals there over many years. The wine waiter/sommelier, who seemed a mere slip of a lad when we first went well over 20 years ago, has, like other male staff, got a little portly during lockdown, but the three wines he selected to accompany the meal were excellent (and he knows all about the wines, so has no problems trying to read labels!). Helen particularly liked the raspberry and pistachio dessert.

We enjoyed the drives almost as much as the meals, after having been restricted for so long in how far we could drive without a permitted reason. Before the deconfinement, the only longer drive had been to Epinal at the end of April to complete our post-Brexit residence permit applications at the Departmental Prefecture, which we decided was permitted as “administrative summons”. As we had produced all the required documentation for our previous permits, this trip merely involved queueing outside the Prefecture until being escorted to the relevant desks by a masked man with a list of appointments. There it was only a matter of handing over 2 recent photos and having fingerprints taken. It was a shame that no bars or coffee shops were open afterwards, but at least the Prefecture loos were available, before we drove back to wait a month or so for our permits to be posted. And we now have our new cards.

Some of you may remember they finally put a fibre internet connection into the village in 2018. But we are still over 700m from that junction box and still connected by copper wire. It allowed our internet connection speed to go from 2Mbps download to 18Mbps but upload still remained less than 1Mbps. In May John did some checking and discovered other internet providers were offering higher speeds so decided to switch. We now have a modern Livebox modem to replace the eight-year old modem and a 38/10Mbps connection, at a lower monthly cost. And, hopefully, in a couple of years we’ll have fibre to the house.

As we thus idle away the hours in Entre-deux-Eaux, the UK family news has been mixed. The Covid that Leila caught back in March has been acknowledged, after much physical fatigue and brain fog, to be long Covid, and in August she will have a telephone assessment by a nurse from the long Covid clinic. Occupational Health have suggested reducing her working hours further, possibly until Christmas, but at present there do not seem to be arrangements in place for the City Council to continue to pay full salaries to long Covid sufferers working fewer hours, which is a worry. But she has been trying to see friends and stay in touch with everyone despite the fatigue.

Toby, Rachel and Farrah recovered better from their bouts of Covid, and Toby is working on a new contract with Pret, which sounds very demanding. They had booked an August holiday in the south of France, so will be disappointed with the announced quarantine for travellers from France and may have to cancel.

However Leila was able to spend a weekend with them last month, collecting Jacob from Stella en route (and returning him on Sunday). She slept at our house. John’s sister, Ann, husband Derek, sons Steven and David along with Steven’s wife and their two young sons were all able to drive up to Letchworth that Saturday, and despite the cool weather enjoyed a great day together, with lots of hide and seek, gossip, games and feasting. We were sad to miss this family gathering, as it is such a long time since we saw everyone. But, as we read news of family and friends who have been so ill during this period, we really can’t grumble.

So we really hope it will not be too long before we are all able to meet up again. A bientôt!

Our unexpected kestrel visitors – first update

This is an update to the earlier post here describing the discovery Our unexpected kestrel visitors

The first two eggs hatched on 9 July. Unfortunately one of the first two chicks died.

The third and fourth eggs hatched on 10 July.

There are now two live video feeds and daily videos and photographs on this unexpected kestrel visitors web site

I have added two cameras, a TP-Link Tapo C100 in a box on the window sill and a motorised pan-and-tilt Tapo C200 above the nest. The original Logitech C270 is also above the nest pointing out of the window.

The kestrel seemed very suspicious of the constant red LEDs on the cameras so they have been turned off. I am not using the IR night mode either. The noise of the motors pan-and-tilt control of the Tapo C200 also seriously disturbed the kestrel.

I am feeding the Tapo camera feeds to Agent DVR software to control the timelapse photographs and videos and OBS Studio to control the live video Tapo feeds to YouTube. The YouTube which are then embedded in the website. The software is all running on my Win10 PC. I originally used a Raspberry Pi 4 for Agent DVR (after a lot of problems installing the software) but there were problems with the required graphics processing capabilities causing dropped frames.

Our unexpected kestrel visitors

The photographs and videos web site
https://www.blackmores-online.info/Kestrel/

Helen noticed little bits of polystyrene floating down one day when she was outside watering plants at the front of the house. I just thought a bird had found a bit of insulation.

In the meantime I’d seen a kestrel flying around, having not remembered seeing any here in the past.

Attic window viewed from the end of the potager

Then I remembered the polystyrene sheet I’d put behind the attic window to stop the crepi from being sprayed in when we had the outside walls redone. I went up to the attic, removed the wood which was holding the polystyrene sheet to the wall and saw a hole in the sheet and, through it, four eggs. A day or so later and Helen said she’d seen a bird with a white underside and fawn colouring flying out early one morning when she was gardening in the potager and then I saw the same a bit later when mowing. I’d not previously identified the eggs but on further internet checking I could now confirm that they probably were kestel eggs. I’d originally put a tripod near the compost heap in the hope of photographing the bird later in the day when it was cooler. I’d already told my sister I probably needed a tennis umpire’s chair to get high enough to see in to all of it properly.

Then, with no Euro football yesterday afternoon and too hot to do anything else outside, I wondered about setting up a camera to see if there was more than just the eggs. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to use my Neos webcam. But I wondered whether I could do something with my my old Samsung NC10 netbook? That originally had WinXP and we used it mainly for e-mails and web searching when travelling. But the hard disk died and when I replaced the disk I no longer had a copy of WinXP so installed Linux Mint. Again, that meant the NC10 was OK for use when travelling. But setting up a camera system was going to be a challenge as I’d no knowledge of what was available. I had a spare Logitech C270 webcam which I hoped I could use despite there not being any Linux drivers. So I spent an hour or more experimenting with download Linux camera programs just to see what might be possible. I’d originally thought of just trying to put up single image or possibly a video feed but then they would also need archive copies otherwise any activity might be missed. Then I though it might be better just to capture multiple images and either put them on a web site or combine them into a video. One of the camera programs I looked at had the ability to write files with different names which could be timestamps. I opted for one image per minute. So then it was a matter of automating the process. Not something I’d done before in Linux and it was a bit of a struggle as the process stopped running when the screensaver started. I didn’t manage to find the correct power setting and eventually just turned off the screensaver!

I ran a power cable to the far end of the attic so I could put the NC10 near to the window. I also decided to put the webcam in a box but didn’t have anything to hand except for one litre ice cream tubs. So  I made a hole in one side, just big enough for the camera lens and fixed the C270 in the box, and then made another hole for the lead out. I’d not looked through to see if there was more than eggs on the other side for a couple of days (and hoped they’d not been found by the stone marten which had played havoc with a neighbour’s chickens). The polystyrene was partially fixed by the crepi but I managed to put the box through a slight gap on the far side from the eggs, hoping I’d positioned it reasonably. I’d not checked before doing all the set-up, but the Wi-Fi signal was good enough to be able to connect the NC10 to our network and to be able to copy and process the image files on my computer.

Kestrel hen

Kestrel hen

About 30 mins later a bird appeared. So it confirmed we have kestrel guests, even though there is only one at a time visiting.

The programs all ran until midnight. Then, I’m not sure why, but there was a file-naming problem and the files were no longer in the expected directory. I eventually found them (and later renamed them and put them in the correct directory). I also simplified the filenames to the minimum, so hopefully that problem is solved? Converting the one-per-minute images into an AVI video wasn’t too much of a problem but I had to experiment with various settings to get reasonable file sizes.

I’ve now put some still images and the first video on a web site
https://www.blackmores-online.info/Kestrel/

kestrel chicks 17 July

From scarlet hips to white damson blossom: Christmas 2020 to Easter 2021 in Entre-deux-Eaux

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2021no1A.pdf (six A4 pages)

There are some links to photographs in the text;
clicking on the photographs will sometimes lead to
a larger selection of photographs

E2E in January snow

E2E in January snow

Over the last week of frosty nights and sunny days we have been enjoying the sight of white damson blossom and pink ornamental plum blossom. Looking out of the window this morning, it was impossible to distinguish the damson blossom from the white snow resting on the branches of all the trees.

In previous years we would have seen more blossom. But one of the casualties of the heavier snow back in January was our large walk-in fruit cage, which John and Alistair had constructed in 2011.

Snow on the fruit cage

The snow on top of it froze and its weight caused the horizontal wooden laths across the top to break and the netting to sag and split, bringing down the netting, wood, and snow onto the blackcurrant bushes. So when the weather was finer we knew we had to dismantle the whole cage for a complete rebuild. For the past few years the fruit crops have been steadily diminishing as the branches of the row of trees (some probably over 50 years old) outside the south of the cage got denser and blocked out more and more sunlight. Now was the ideal opportunity to either prune or fell those trees; we had hesitated to even prune previously lest cut branches fell on the cage and damaged it.

Cutting down the plum tree

Cutting down the plum tree

But now a neighbour, Jacky Georgeon, who we consulted, said straight away that he’d be happy to do the work, having done all the home-decorating he could, and he arrived with his tools a couple of days later. John was to be seen at a safe distance in the field with a rope round his waist from the biggest tree, guiding its fall as Jacky applied the final cuts to the 50 cm trunk. The tree subsided in slow motion, but still too fast for Helen to capture with her phone camera. Georgeon’s pal, Mickael, the assistant commune employee, brought his tractor-driven log splitter to do the final cutting up into lengths to stack for three or more years before they can be cut to smaller logs for the stove. With Mickael paid, and Jacky warmly thanked with whisky and a share of the wood, John busied himself, stacking the lengths and producing three cubic metres of wood chips for the garden from the many smaller branches. But alas, no line of pink and white blossom there this year.

However, the logs will come in useful once they are seasoned. The day after we told Jacky that we did not need to light our wood-burning stove very often, we realised that the underfloor heating was not working. Having learned how necessary it was to have an introduction to workmen, we quoted our friends Roger and Dorinda when ringing Fafin the Plumber, and such was the magic of their names that he came round a couple of hours later to assess the problem and later installed a new expansion tank. He was a bit concerned that he could hear too much air in the pipes and suggested we should leave a valve open upstairs for five days and top up the system to see if that improved the situation. All the controls are behind a bookcase, so we removed all the books from the shelves to move it. Only then did John notice that he had on the last occasion fitted some wheels to the bottom of the shelves, so we could move the bookcase out without having to remove all the books first! The books remain on the floor as, although the heating is working, there seems to be no sign of a leak and there is probably another, as yet, unidentified problem.

SantaAnd now a quick glimpse back at Christmas, which seems a long time ago. We picked all the scarlet hips in the orchard as we had no holly for decorations, along with aromatic sage, pine branches, cones, dried hydrangea flowers, and branches of spindleberry fruits and decorated windowsills and added a wreath to the front door. John treated himself to a curtain of lights for the big French windows, where they lit up the strings of Christmas cards. Christmas cards and letters were extra special to both write and receive at the end of a very quiet year for everyone, and we enjoyed leaving them up till the end of January, and the curtain of lights until the official start of spring (but then the plastic Santas climbing up house walls and letter boxes around the village hung around for just as long, slowly deflating). Christmas Day itself was quiet, the carols from Kings College were a pleasure, and the village seemed deserted when we went for a short walk, though there were plenty of cars on drives, so perhaps everyone was sleeping off their festive fare. Our own Christmas fare was a bit different this year, featuring guinea fowl, ice cream log and panettone. Our gifts to each other have kept us entertained since then. John ordered a big pile of books for Helen, and he is still experimenting on the occasional clear nights with his new motorised tripod mount used to help photographing the night sky.

Early morning sun

Early morning sun and snow

January seemed a long and dreary month, with dull weather, but as the hips and pine branches wilted and dropped, we brightened up the living room with purchases of pots of amaryllis, orchids and hyacinths. We also missed all the seasonal convivial French reunions and feasts. The Entre-deux-Eaux village council postponed their meal for the over-sixty-fives until 27 March and then had to change it from a lively gathering with music and dancing between courses, to a home delivery sometime after 2pm.

The village New Year meal delivery

Our doorbell rang around 5pm (it must have been hard to estimate how long it would take to pack up and distribute nearly 100 meals). The first items which our neighbour Claudine handed over were four half bottles of very nice wines! It was a shame not to catch up on local gossip, but John appreciated the lack of noise, especially the enthusiastic musical contribution of castanet man. We missed the mayor filling glasses at the end with his potent home-distilled pear or plum liqueur.

Sadly the subject of Covid cannot be avoided in an update. In early January Toby, Rachel and Stella all had Covid and Toby sounded very unwell. Fortunately Rachel’s eldest daughter was at home and able to help with cooking and looking after Jacob and Farrah. One Sunday afternoon in early January, Leila was contacted, like others from the Coroner’s Office, and offered a vaccination appointment if she could get to a health centre north of Nottingham in two hours time. Presumably they had spare Pfizer vaccine to use up due to missed appointments? She had unpleasant side-effects for several days, including breathlessness, but we were glad she had some protection, as not all her work could be done from home. Sadly it was not enough to protect her from a new strain of the virus, as yet unidentified, which she got in March and from which she is still very tired over four weeks later. As a rare case she will contribute to a study, beginning with a blood sample to establish antibodies produced.

But as friends in the UK were having their first vaccine doses, you probably heard about the problems over here. The EU were slow to place orders for member countries, despite rather shrill accusations from Ursula von der Leyen about Britain preventing exports. The French had been hoping to develop their own vaccine, so were a bit dismissive of other efforts. People here are also more hesitant about vaccines in general after previous cautions (from compulsory Hepatitis B for children in the 1990s which was stopped as there was apparent, never proved, correlation with multiple sclerosis and one of the 2009 H1N1 bird flu vaccines which was linked to narcolepsy) and President Macron made negative pronouncements about the efficacy of the Oxford AstraZeneca one, which did not help confidence.

When the programme was extended from care homes to over 75s in February, Helen tackled the clunky booking system. The website always said there were no available appointments, but advised ringing up instead. The phone answer system always said there were no appointments available, but try the website. Then one morning the phone had no such message, but kept playing the same bit of music for 20 mins until someone replied, and efficiently booked Helen’s appointments for both the first and second doses.

In March, the vaccination programme was extended to the 65-74 age group who had co-morbidities. Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, which were originally reserved for the under 65s, then allowed for all, and then reserved only for the over 55s, were distributed to doctors’ surgeries. Given the problems with the main online vaccination system, and despite not being eligible, John put in a request to our doctor to be added to his list for the time when the eligibility list was widened. Surprisingly, John was offered an end-of-day appointment a week or so later. Unfortunately, like other EU countries, France then suspended the AZ vaccine use over a period that included John’s appointment.

Meanwhile, Helen had her second dose in a hall behind the Town Hall in St Dié. The nurse there was talking about the forthcoming move to a much larger sports hall on the outskirts of St Dié where they would also have more doctors and nurses and be able to double the vaccination rate. At this point as Covid cases were mounting in France, hospitals were having to transfer patients to other parts of the country, vaccine distribution volumes increased with the addition of the Moderna vaccine. One Friday the booking phone line was again answered, and John was offered his first appointment three days later on the Monday in the new location together with a date a month later for the second.

The new vaccination centre

The new vaccination centre (spot John)

That Monday turned out to be the first day in the new hall, so was a bit chaotic with patients not sitting in any order and doctors having difficulty locating their victims for preliminary interviews (though the nurses of course got their clients organised and sitting in treatment order for the actual vaccinations). Complicating matters were the inevitable mayor, entourage, reporters and photographers necessary on such occasions. We appear in some publicity photos, or at least our legs do. John was expecting it to be the Moderna vaccine but it turned out to be Pfizer.

A day after that, Macron announced a third French lockdown. So as Radio 4 broadcasts interviews with people excited over the easing of English restrictions, we embark on increased French restrictions (somewhat farcically, the form went through several revisions in a few days as various anomalies and simplifications were made). However, despite being more than 30 km away, we will still be able to go to Epinal later in April to complete our post-Brexit residence permits applications, giving photographs and fingerprints, if we tick the box on the reasons-for-leaving-home form marked administrative summons which cannot be carried out remotely.

We were very sad to learn during this period of the death of our good neighbour, Danielle Laine in her care home from what sounds like a heart attack. Our neighbour Danielle Barbe, who had visited her very recently, rang us that lunch time, and we realized why the church bells had been tolling. They tolled again a few days later for her funeral in the village church. We stood outside in masks as her coffin was borne in. There were quite a few people outside, mainly younger, and they all followed the coffin inside, although we went and sat on the bench under the tree by the road. A lot of the older people who would have known her well were not there though. On the way home Helen stopped to talk to one who was standing on her doorstep as the final bells tolled, and she sounded really glad to talk to someone. She lives on her own and has used canes to walk ever since we’ve known her, and was a good friend of Danielle’s. She said how few people in the village she knew these days. We shall remember Danielle for her lively conversation and readiness to help us during the last thirty years, although we know she had found life increasingly burdensome without her husband Pierre who died in September 2019. Their daughter Annick has been renovating her parents’ house, though we don’t think that she and her husband have moved in yet. The village bells also tolled for another village character, the ninety-year-old former military man, Gaston. Again it was not a Covid death and his mistress and her husband had been looking after him over recent months (which sounds very French).

However, it turns out that Covid is not the only current health threat. A few days ago we received an e-mail from the mairie which was headed Chenilles urticantes: prévention. It was a warning from the Regional Health Council of the Grand Est (oddly without any identifying images) about these nasty-sounding processionary caterpillars, which nest in pine and oak trees and descend and process in lines of up to a hundred in search of sunnier spots. Their hairs can be picked up and spread by the wind, and can cause intense itching, rashes, and sharp skin flare-ups. They can also irritate eyes.

A few days ago when John came in from the field and orchard where he had been leaning on the ground photographing fritillaries, daffodils and cowslips he complained of very itchy arms, but hadn’t seen any hairy processions. And talking of itching, Helen is hoping that whatever insect bit her last year has met a dreadful fate after she was covered in infected spots which caused her problems throughout the summer, autumn visits to the dermatologist and a dull rash that still itches.

But during the dormant period none of this deterred us from agreeable short walks in January and February and garden jobs in March. The compacted snow was quite treacherous on well trodden paths and the roads, but when the sun was bright, despite the cold wind in the sub zero temperatures, it was enjoyable walking across untrampled fields and along little-used paths. One morning three graceful deer skimmed across the snow as we glanced out of our bedroom window, and when we walked across that field their tracks were clear among the bird tracks.

Sahara sand in the sky

Sahara sand in the sky

Rainbow

the rainbow’s end

Another day the sky was an extraordinary yellow colour, caused by sand from the Sahara, and one afternoon, after rain, we could see from the window a rainbow which ended in the field opposite. But we did not take our spades and dig up the crock of gold.

One morning we drove a bit further afield to the hills on the other side of Saulcy, and started our walk at the Col d’Anozel. It felt good to be walking in the wooded hills beyond the village, but we discovered that a lot of trees had fallen during recent high winds, including the previous night.

Path blocked by trees

Someone had been earlier with a chain saw and the lower path had been cleared, but a higher path still had a lot of trees across it, which made scrambling over under and round them awkward, and we missed a track down to the starting point, so the walk was longer and steeper than intended! On a second walk at the Col d’Anozel we discovered that someone had left their picnic rubbish behind them – oyster shells and squeezed lemon halves. So very French!

Easter amuse bouche

Easter amuse bouche

And talking of French food, a great pleasure has been the discovery that our favourite restaurant, l’Imprimerie, is prepared to deliver their weekend menu as far as Entre-deux-Eaux from the book village some 47 km away. Each weekend chef Morgan and his staff prepare a three-course meal for a mere 20 euros, transport included, to be re-heated on delivery. So we have put in a weekly order, and after months of wearing old clothes have been dressing up for Saturday night dinner (Sunday over Easter). The menus have been very varied, highlights being his courgette and fish starter, Tom kha kai Thai chicken soup, buttery skate, beef cheek tagine, pear and almond tartlette, and his Easter special including the starter of St Jacques and sweet potato with an orange and almond sauce and his “Easter egg” dessert of a white chocolate “shell” with creamy “white” and kumquat “yolk”, not to mention the tasty nibbles before and after.

Potager and rebuilt fruit cage

Potager and rebuilt fruit cage

We were ready for our Easter special as we had been rushing to complete current tasks before the forecast change in weather from sun to snow and rain. John had been reconstructing and strengthening the collapsed fruit cage and had just finished attaching metal rails rather than wooden laths across the top of the sturdy upright wooden posts. Helen had finished weeding the larger flower bed, scattering flower seeds, watering and covering with some of the woodchips. The vegetable patch was, by now, rotavated, with beds marked out and paths between beds covered in more of the woodchips. So far onion, leek, parsnip and carrot seeds have been sown in the beds, with lettuce and rocket in the new lightweight cold frame (in fact it was so lightweight that it blew apart and scattered in high winds one night, but John has re-glued and weighted it down). In the potting area at the rear of a barn are loo rolls of broad bean seedlings, and recycled plastic punnets of onion and various flower seeds; not yet visible are the more recently sown beans and peas. But they will all wait till the ice saints of May have passed before being planted out. And when the fruit cage has its netting back on, we have pots of honeyberries (lonicera caerulea), blueberries and a tayberry to plant as replacements for the old blackcurrants and prickly worcesterberries.

Hot cross buns

It is perhaps as well that snow and rain have temporarily stopped outdoor work, as one of John’s Achilles tendons has reacted (perhaps to a lot of standing on step ladders) by giving up supporting him. So it is back to the computers in the attic and John’s family tree, Helen’s dwindling pile of Christmas books, evenings of crime and football on TV and the last of the Easter chocolate. Our other festive treats of John’s home-made hot cross buns have, alas already been consumed.

Till we meet again, we waft our best wishes in print across the Channel!

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, 21 December 2020

Click here to see larger versions of the photographs in a separate tab

 

I had planned to take a series of photographs of Saturn and Jupiter in the days before and after 21 December as the planets appeared to move closer together and then as they moved apart.

However, despite the sky being reasonably clear for several evenings before 21 December, there was always a layer of low clouds over the Vosges themselves. By dusk the elevation of the planets was only 10 degrees about the horizon and getting lower. The planets often appeared and the disappeared in that cloud but were often still covered in a light haze. On the day of the conjunction, 21 December, and for the following days, there was thick obscuring cloud. The next time I saw them (and last, because of clouds for the following week) was briefly on 26 December.

I took several hundred photos in total. Above is one from each of the nights Thursday-Sunday before the actual conjunction on the Monday and one on the following Friday. The second was taken at 1725, so in the dusk light. The third was taken just before 1800 and shows clouds. The fourth shows the closest I captured the planets with some moons of both Saturn and Jupiter and I’ve added a screenshot from the free Stellarium planetarium software http://stellarium.org/ which helps identify the moons. Saturn and the rings weren’t separately identifiable and just appeared as an oval (the 26 December photo is the best).

I was using my 75-300mm lens at 250-300mm. I tried different exposures as the planets seemed over-exposed, but that made no significant difference so I must be at the limit of resolution of the sensor/lens image for that length telephoto. I had to focus manually as autofocus does not work on many cameras for small objects at a distant near infinity (for autofocus the camera needed to be able to focus either side of the correct focus point). When turned on my camera was set to go to an “infinity” point (the setting is 999.9m) which gives a good depth of field but the primary focus is not at infinity (the latest top-of-the-range Olympus DSLR do have a new special Starry Sky autofocus, which reportedly works). The other problem was either the low haze or fine high cloud making the images fuzzy. I’ve since seen photos on an Olympus web site where someone used a 400mm lens and the rings and planet were separately identified.