We saw the first of the cranes heading south last week and sure enough, almost immediately, the nip in the air turned to a real chill and it was time (at least for me) to find the thermals.
There was frost on the grass in the corner of Monsieur F's field this morning when I walked Vita and Bertie. It's the corner where the sun never penetrates, by the ditch where we turn right towards the small bridge and where Bertie lingers to sniff every inviting smell from the hunt dogs who passed by at the weekend.
Suddenly the jobs that seemed like elephant tasks all throughout the hot summer have become eminently do-able, like digging over the compost heap and barrowing what's rotted down to the vegetable beds.
Tod is off sightseeing for a couple of days - Bilbao, Pamplona and Saragossa - so Vita and Bertie know their task is to keep an eye on me. They supervise from the top of the bank behind the sour cherry tree. They lounge in the sun, on the edge of the long grass, facing in opposite directions like two book ends.
I might even get round to tidying the wood store before this winter's supply is delivered.
There's definitely a nip in the air. Tod lit the fire in the lounge last night (this hot summer has made us soft).
Was it really only last Monday I lingered in Lacanau, reluctant to leave the beach in the late afternoon sun? And drove home through the dark with the car thermometer reading thirty-four degrees.
I zigzag across the lawn extracting long bleached maize leaves that are huddling in small groups between the bushes.
My prayers for rain were granted as storms during the week drove through the Bay of Biscay, travelling on the coat-tails of a small tornado that flung Monsieur F's field across our garden, lifted the morning glory-draped trellises from the poolside off their posts and hurled the swimming pool cover into the pool.
The mess is worth it. The water butts are full for the first time in two months. I cheerfully pull up barrow-loads of dead weeds that have succumbed to the heat - their roots slipping easily from the damp earth.
The last of our paying guests have departed, so I trot backwards and forwards to the cottage, linen and towels in my arms and breath in the sweet damp smells of autumn.
I email our next gîte guests and sign off, saying I hope the good weather will continue for them.
It's not true. I long for lower temperatures, a cool breeze and rain. Days of rain, not the occasional ten minutes-worth of droplets every two weeks or so.
I husband water. The pots round the cottage are done daily. New bushes, foolishly planted early summer, just as the rain ceased, are fussed over and I fret when I see their new leaves droop. The veg patch is done every night and still the stems of the cucumbers and tomatoes turn brittle and crack. Everything else - trees, bushes, roses, perennials - have to manage as best they can.
A large viburnum by the gate to the swimming pool, tough as old boots, suddenly starts shedding yellowing leaves. The canna lilies stubbornly refuse to bloom, curling their leaves into long thin pointed tubes.
Plants that are supposed to thrive in heat - lavender, majoram, grey furry-leaved sage - are dull and dusty. The occasional rose struggles to flower, petals pale and brown edged almost as soon as they open.
I try weeding, but the ground is baked rock hard and stems snap as I pull them.
I itch to get out there and dig, mulch, move plants that are struggling, redesign the cottage border so it's easier to care for. Instead, I lurk indoors, glad of the shade and the draught through the pulled-to shutters.
I look at the meteo long-range forecast and it shows nothing but sunshine. Our next guests will be delighted as they lie by our pool, which has been at a pleasant twenty-eight degrees centigrade for weeks now.
I, on the other hand, will be silently praying for rain.
I say "Victoria" and mean "Veronica". Maybe it's the other way round.
The place "Laparade" in my head becomes quite another, "Lagruère", on my lips.
I used to think it was Tod not listening properly. Now I know better. Words I once confidently controlled - on the page, through my speech - in recent years have taken on a life of their own. I can only watch helplessly as they dance round me, or totally vanish over the horizon, sometimes to be replaced by quite another, not to be trusted, which might or might not (usually not) be right.
The word for the white powder that thickens sauce but isn't cornflour vanished days ago. Others my brain offers as an alternative - aspartame, asafoetida - I know are not right. It's true I could just open the cupboard door and read what's on the small tub, but that would be a defeat. I would like the word to come back of its own accord.
I laugh. And try to suppress the small bubble of fear about what the years ahead may hold.
... from the top of the stairs that lead up to the loft. I ignore him until the whines turn into sharp, demanding barks - "get me down now!"
The treads are open and he goes up in search of small furry things to chase but then doesn't have the courage to come back down.
He peers down at me anxiously through the balustrade as I make my way up with his blue slip-on collar and lead in one hand. I know this is a futile exercise. As soon as I reach the top he darts to the far side of the loft, disappearing round behind the chimney in a manic game of hide and seek - wanting to be rescued but not wanting to be caught.
So I retreat, muttering about leaving him there 'til he starves. And the whines and barks start again.
This time I come armed.
A friends staying last week talked about training her young Labrador to come on command with a squeaky toy. Bertie has no interest in coming for food, but perhaps he'll come for something that sounds like prey. I'd bought a small green rubber cow (I think) that has such a loud squeak it briefly silenced Leclerc's when I tried it in the supermarket. Maybe this would work.
I stand at the top of the stairs, optimistically squeaking. Bertie appears briefly, but is not to be fooled. He darts past me and stands among some mattresses and cushions he's been rummaging through in his hunt. I know if I move towards him he will disappear again. In frustration, I roar at him to "S I T", accompanied by several expletives. Meekly, he does.
Slipping the collar over his head, I squeak the green rubber cow again a few more times, just for reinforcement, and then realise my squeaks are being accompanied by loud "feed me" cheeps above my head. One of our redstarts has managed to get back into the house, despite my creating (as I thought) an impenetrable barrier of green plastic netting under the eaves. There, tucked between two rafters in the gloom above me is a messy, occupied, noisy nest.
Normally when we are around redstart chicks stay deathly quiet, only setting up their enthusiastic cheeping when they hear the reassuring "chirrup" of their mother or father returning with food.
Bertie may not be fooled by the cow. Disconcerting to discover that redstart chicks can't tell the difference between a raucous Leclerc-silencing squeal of a plastic toy and the sound their parents make.
Lesley says: "I do hope that all is well." She has noticed that I haven't posted since December.
My initial reaction is to send a quick reply "thank you for noticing and yes fine" but the reply wasn't sent, the weeks slip by and I ponder: perhaps all is not well?
Perhaps there is just a natural cycle for blog-writing. Initial enthusiasm, a contented maturity and then a gentle decline. I wrote far fewer blogs last year. I'm a great starter of things and a lousy completer-finisher, running out of steam before the project is finished. Then the gap between blogs becomes too great to start again. The habit of sitting at the keyboard to share my thoughts is lost.
So do I just thank my readers (reader) shut down and walk away?
And yet there is a niggle of regret. I miss the writing: that looking for the well-chosen word, seeking to evoke a mood, capture a scene so that the reader is there with me. This strange duel process of writing - the introverted, solitary act of placing words on the page juxtaposed with the extrovert arrogant assumption that someone, somewhere, is going to read what I have written. Is the introvert in me saying "enough"?
And then there are all the stories not written, piling up in a mound of half-formed phrases 'til they become a jumbled writer's block - which story to post about? which phrase to pick out and work with? Some of the stories are too personal, too raw, not mine to write about really and yet jamming my mind. So better not to post at all.
Of course, there's the excuse of "too busy living this life to write about this life". True, in a way, this last year for the first time we let the cottage as a paying gite and my anxiety about it all left little room for a well-thought few words at the end of the day.
And maybe the excited enjoyment of living in France has slipped away to become the mundane routine of the day to day - weeding, mowing, dusting, cooking, shopping - what is there to blog about there? My eyes no longer see the quirky, the unusual as I trudge through this life, head down.
Nine years on, we wonder about moving, concerned that we are becoming slaves to our life here - too much to do with all the land we have and the two properties to care for and pay for, yet loathe to leave our beautiful views and the space we have. So, for the moment we stay.
And I ponder some more: perhaps all is well and I have just lost sight of that in all the minutiae of our daily lives.
Thank you for asking Lesley. On reflection, I may just start blogging again.
In the 1970's I lived in Brazil and I wrote home to my mother in the UK every week. Those letters became the story of my life there. In 2007 I moved to south west France. Not quite sure where "home" is, I have no family left in the UK. If I did, these words would be my letters home, capturing the first impressions of my life here, to share, enjoy and perhaps re-read in years to come.