Sunday, 13 April 2014

We returned from a smog-laden London to ...

... tree frogs, nightingales, cuckoos and hoopoes all tuning up for the summer.

Amorous black redstarts searching for nesting places - preferably in the house.

Wisteria and lilac in full bloom, pouring forth their perfume at dusk.

A tub of violas and tulips - a few old bulbs found in the shed now bursting with soft frilly whites, pale mauves and deep dark, dark purple (must be Queen of the Night).

Glow-worms on the door step.

Clear moonlit skies with just a wisp of cloud.  Or is it the Milky Way?

Oh, and a gang of wasps setting up home inside the Batmobile!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

We Have Voted!

A friend came for a late lunch and a long chat and time was slipping away.

He finally departed, gone five thirty, and we had no idea when the polling station, (at the Mairie) closed. Was it even worth going?  Well, it was only five minutes drive, so not a hardship if a wasted journey.

The number of cars in the carpark looked promising. And pushing open the swing doors and heading for the inner sanctum of the committee room at the back, we found ourselves in the middle of a crowded jolly party. There were smiles and offers of help all round, as we admitted this was our first time voting and we had no idea what to do.

We handed over our voter's cards and our passports for identification. And were led to the table where "the lists" were and blue envelopes. Our task: to go into the voting booth, choose the list we wanted and place it in the envelope. Only in the case of our commune - there is only ONE list: showing our current mayor and our current councillors. So that is our choice: vote for our current mayor and all his team by placing THE list in the envelope, or leave the envelope empty. As voters in a small commune we have an additional privilege: to strike out anyone on the list whom we don't want.

No wonder there was a party spirit! The vote is a total foregone conclusion.

We duly signed in the register to show we'd voted and the transparent box was snapped open to accept our envelopes.

Mind you, our village takes this all pretty seriously. Monsieur F, our neighbouring farmer and one of our councillors, was saying that there are 530 voters in the commune and about 450 of them will have voted (a higher proportion than in the national elections) by close of play. "Which is when?" I asked. "At six - about a minute from now!" Our lunchtime friend had left just in time.

We slipped away amid many "bonne soirées". The party looked to continue for some time after the voting booths had closed.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Even the mildest of winters here ...

... carry a sting in their tail.

As I walk up the steps to Yvette's front door for our weekly French/English conversation, little piles of hailstones nestle in the corners.

This week, "les giboulées de mars" - the unwelcome, early-March, cold, stinging squalls (much less friendly than April showers) - have arrived. A treacherous time for blossom.

But they are also a sign. As are the first cranes starting to fly north this week. And the tree frogs, beginning to tune up on the far side of the valley.

Spring really is just round the corner.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


Between bouts in the garden (oh the bliss of a mild February, even if it is wet!) I plonk myself in front of the TV to catch up on the Winter Olympics.  But rarely linger for long.  There really is only so much curling a woman can take.

Yesterday, for a change, I found myself watching a young Korean - Yuna Kim - doing wonderful things in a short freestyle programme.  I missed the beginning and much as I enjoyed her fluid movement over the ice and (almost) perfectly executed jumps, there was a part of me, totally distracted, thinking "What IS the music she's skating to?"  It was there, on the tip of my tongue.  I found myself catching fleeting words from it through the evening, but just could not pin it down.

This morning, I've found it. "Send in the Clowns" by Sondheim.  And this for me is the most achingly poignant version.  Not when she first sang it on stage in A Little Night Music, all those years ago.  But as she is now, with all her beautiful age and experience.

And this, Yuna Kim in all her glory ...

Friday, 31 January 2014

Night Walk

The owl lifts noiselessly off the field, his ghostly shape caught at the edge of the torchlight.

Startled, Bertie looks up at me for reassurance and his eyes glow green-gold.  Other eyes, across Monsieur F's land, reflect back the same colour and immediately vanish - a fox or feral cat.

We reach the brow of the hill and walk down the slope towards the small bridge crossing the stream.  Our cottage comes into view on the left. A grey outline with two small diamonds of light shining out from high in the end wall. No doubt Tod is still at his computer.

Vita and Bertie hunt ecstatically along the pitch black ditches. The wet grass sparkles with rain drops lit by the torch as we pass. The sky shimmers with stars.  Orion's Belt to the south and west. The Plough to the north and east. The only two constellations I recognise. A plane's lights wink overhead - too high for the engine noise to carry.

Heavy rain clouds lie along the western horizon, deep grey billows touched with orange from the light spill of a distant town.

We turn down onto Monsieur F's left-hand field , slipping and slithering through the mud, and follow the stream, swollen with all the rain, gurgling and splashing in the dark.

Sloshing across the gully that borders Philippe's farmland, we head back for the final trek up our meadow to the cottage. To warmth. And dry towels for wet muddy paws. And bed.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Shirtsleeve Weather

We have friends who arrived a year or two before us, who told us the first January they were here they gardened in T-shirts.  As they tend to be hardy types and as every January we've been here it's snowed, we've taken their tale with a pinch of salt.

We thought they were exaggerating. Maybe not.  T-shirts are perhaps a step too far (we're not as tough as they) but we've certainly gardened steadily through this month and even have shed jacket and sweater because it's been  so mild. Oh the joy of being outside and getting to the tasks that rarely get accomplished in the rush of March and April.

Hazel saplings have been planted in the lawn behind the cottage. The apple trees and wisteria have been pruned, the banks strimmed, the borders weeded, cuttings potted, bulbs that were hiding in the shed planted. I've reached parts of the garden I haven't touched for years and discovered young elms springing up and a Japonica with fat flower buds completely smothered in the long grass.  Pots stand against the cottage wall with no more than a thin fleece over them for night-time chills - underneath geraniums and begonias continue to thrive. The violas I flung in a pot without much hope before Christmas are radiant.

Ten thirty, the early mist has cleared and the sun is streaming through the cottage windows. Time to grab the gardening sweater and jacket, find the gloves and secateurs and get outside.  Who knows, by mid-afternoon I may be in shirtsleeves again.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Mayor hugged me ...

... and planted a kiss on each cheek as he said "meilleurs voeux" (best wishes, for the New Year).  I was a trifle surprised as I didn't think we were that well acquainted and I would have been quite content with a hand shake.  It's true that Tod and I had gone into the Mairie after Christmas to register as voters - there are elections coming up in March - so perhaps that raises us to a new level of intimacy.  The mayor needs all the votes he can get, so if that means kissing an English OAP, so be it.

We were standing in the village hall surrounded by what felt like the whole of the commune, children scrambling between legs, weathered agricultural faces on all sides, a few women in dresses and high heels, clearly communicating that they had office jobs.

We were all there for the major's "state of the nation" and to welcome newcomers to the village. Although the hall has a stage, he stood amongst his people (egalité, of course), which meant most of us could not see him and had to rely on hearing his disembodied voice floating ceiling-wards via the amplifiers.

Tod and I understood about one word in ten, but could see from the somber faces and the nodding and shaking of heads that he was reporting on the poor state of the French economy and the certainty that it would continue for the coming year (indeed years). This will have a direct effect on what the commune will be able to achieve. Round here, people are stoical, they shrug and take in another belt notch.

The mayor was wise.  He finished on a cheerful note.  Two pétanque courts are being constructed in the centre of the village and (raising a cheer from the assembled company) this year the Tour de France will be coming our way.

As the slightly sickly white wine and cassis cocktail was being poured and the congealed pizza cut into slices we slipped away, our duty done.  Our neighbours are gracious but talking to us is hard work for them. We often see a slightly panicky expression in their eyes as we approach.  We have, however, met the new secretary to the Secretary of the Mairie.  She was one of those in high heels and her English is excellent.  No panic in her eyes, just a welcoming smile.  Hope her fluency doesn't make us lazy.  We need to practice our French as often as possible and the mayor's office is always a good place for a chat (and who knows, these days maybe a kiss as well).

Tour de France 2014

Monday, 30 December 2013

"Ouvert tous les jours" ...

... is the most mendacious phrase in the whole of the French language.

I checked - that's what it said: "Ouvert tous les jours" (open daily). It's true, I only checked quickly, so I was pleased that I spotted the website went on to say "except bank holidays" - fair enough. So that rules out Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  But today's a normal day. So I decided to go as today is the only day this week the météo shows no rain.

Next Tuesday is a photography club evening and it's a competition night. The topic is roofs (rooves?) and I'm struggling.  It's true there are plenty of old, interesting roofs round here, but they are all much of a muchness and I need four different, contrasting images to make an impact. So Bordeaux seemed like a good idea - old roofs, maybe some new, perhaps some glass for contrast. I googled and found that there is a splendid view to be had over the rooftops of the city from the top of the Tour Pey-Beland. But maybe the tower was only open in summer for the tourists? So I googled again, and there it was, that phrase: "ouvert tous les jours". Great. And off I set.

Only of course it wasn't! The heavy red doors to the tower were firmly shut. Perhaps it was because I was too late?  I found the notice with the opening hours alongside and no, I was on time, still another hour before closing. But then I found it. There. The dreaded phrase in small print underneath - sauf lundi (except Monday).  Aaaah!  You would think I would know by now. That I wouldn't be taken in any more.  After all, this is our seventh Christmas in France.

Well, the trip wasn't entirely wasted.  I now know where to come when the sun is shining and I've spotted some other potential scenic shots.  Today wasn't the right day - too dull and washed out.  If the tower had been open I would have been dissatisfied with the shots I took.

So now I'll just have to make the most of the images round here - starting perhaps with the cooking pot (or maybe chamber pot?) on top of our own pigeonnier.