Monday, 24 November 2014

There are times ...

... when the only card to play is that of a batty old English lady who doesn't speak much French.

Lost in the middle of Montauban at lunchtime,  as I turned left at the traffic lights, I realised immediately I was heading towards Auch and I should have gone straight on towards Agen. But not to worry, there on my right was a large lay-by in front of the gendarmerie where I could turn the car round.  As I did so, I heard the sound of shouts and whistles and hooting of horns and found I was facing a row of oncoming cars. Not perhaps the best place to choose to do a U-turn in a one-way street.

This was the moment to play the only card.

I was lectured severely by two young, tough off-duty gendarmes setting off for lunch with their large fierce dogs who obviously thought I should not be driving at all.  Vita, barking loudly in the back, gave me all the encouragement she could, .

French honour and discipline satisfied, we were sent meekly on our way.

Two hours earlier, in the calm of a small white room among farm buildings, at the end of a long grassy track, another elderly lady bent over Vita, her hands working steadily and gently up and down Vita's spine. I'd arrived with my story of Airedale skin problems, slug pellet poisoning, losing weight, an epileptic fit, but my imperfect French was barely heard.  The patient was Vita and it was her body that told its tale.

Fortunately, not all elderly ladies are batty.  Some grow old gracefully and with great wisdom.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Our Glorious Indian Summer has Finally Gone

After two months of warmth, with sun and blue skies most days and only one extraordinary night of rain (flooded basements in town and piles of grey hailstones, like grit, in all the gulleys) the weather has finally broken.

For the last two days the valley has resounded to the noise of tractors in all directions - harrowing, sowing winter wheat and getting in the last of the maize as the rain clouds gathered.  The co-operative shed at the corner of the road where we turn left to go down into town was open late last night, lights blazing, as the great golden pile of kernels was shoveled into shelter by a truck like a snow plough.

These weeks have given us heart and a chance to work seriously on the boat; something for a time that seemed quite beyond our capabilities.  In the certainty of dry warm weather we've been sanding down, cleaning out badly cracked and leaking woodwork, filling holes and gaps and applying wood treatment.  The boat is a long way from being water-proofed (as we will no doubt find after last night's rain) but it feels like we are making progress.

In the meantime, the garden (limp, dusty and gasping for water) is breathing a sigh of relief.  There is more rain forecast, so there's a chance we will be able to plant new young trees down in the field before St Catherine's Day (November 25th). The French believe "A la Sainte Catherine, tout bois prend racine" [up to Saint Catherine's Day all wood takes root].

To get more trees planted - that too will be progress.

autumn tints

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Last Sunday in October

The clocks went back an hour last night.

Try explaining that to two dogs as we reach what they consider to be their supper time!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Rentré ...

... start of a new term.

Autumn, the beginning of a new school year.

And the start of our new 2014/15 programme for the photo club.

Our first competition: shadows.

A topic I enjoyed.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Well I Never!

In the more than seven years we have been living here, I have always assumed that the small game birds which foolishly run along the chemin rural in front of our car their legs going nineteen to the dozen (you would have thought flying, or diving into the ditch alongside would be the safer option, but no) were quail. But apparently not.

Our neighbour stood on the veranda late one evening holding an opened package mistakenly delivered to them rather than us.  We talked of the start of the hunt season and his six hounds. He stroked an astonishingly well-behaved Vita while she sat and gazed at him adoringly.  As he departed, Bertie trotted happily alongside him, so much as to say "this man is much more fun, he'd take me hunting".

It was only afterwards that I remembered. This was the neighbour whose wife said our dogs had killed their goat.  Whatever the truth, he at least no longer bears a grudge and a small feeling of relief touched my heart.

And it was afterwards that Tod and I had the conversation about the quail.  I had said "caille" and our neighbour had disagreed, cupping his hands in the shape and size of the birds we know and using another word which we didn't recognise but thought began with a "p". So not quail. But what then?

An online French dictionary and a bird sound website gave me the answer: perdrix - partridge. I had imagined they were much bigger, more like a pheasant.  It's those Christmas images of over-sized partridges perched in pear trees which confuse.

And their sound confirmed it.  That chucking noise they make while standing on top of a clod of ploughed earth, so much as to say to the hunters: "come and get me". They are the most reckless of birds! Quail, I learn, are much more sensible and stay hidden.

The postman brought us two gifts that evening with his misdirected parcel - neighbourly peace of mind and a new insight into our local fauna.

partridge call

Monday, 15 September 2014

Bertie charges down our field ...

... yelling his head off, running alongside the tractor with its harrow kicking up clouds of dust, daring the driver to bring his machine any closer.

I sympathise with Bertie's opinion.

The field, which used to be Serge's is now owned by the pig farm the other side of the valley.  Earlier in the year, I watched nervously as the new owner's tractor cut deep furrows on land alongside our boundary that Serge had left fallow and I had assumed was ours. I indignantly looked again at the plans of the land we'd purchased and had to acknowledge he was right.  His land comes to the point of the ditch at our gatepost. And he's going to take every inch of it.

The wire to our oh-so-necessary electronic fence lies in his field, not ours.

The tractor driver swings the harrow round over our boundary as it comes to the corner by the ditch. He is young, with heavy rimmed glasses - more like a medical student than a tractor driver.  Not anyone I recognise.  The pig farm owner's son maybe?  We raise a hand to each other in greeting as he turns away up the hill.

Once he's finished I discretely move the wire back onto our land.

No doubt in a day or two he will come by again with the dogs' extra-special delight - pig muck - to spread over the field.  From then on a fully functioning electronic fence will be essential, if we are to keep Vita and Bertie out of what they view as a gastronomic paradise.  

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Indian Summer

I stir the saucepan with the sticky mixture of quince cheese bubbling gently over a low heat and the breeze is warm coming through the open door of the kitchen.

Tod's sourdough breads are cooking in the oven, filling the air with a yeasty, beery smell.

Later, as I rake up the conkers down at the cottage I am grateful for the shade of the horse chestnut tree across my bare shoulders.

The farms around are already cleared of their crops except for the sunflowers, which are scorched black and bent double.  They too will be gone soon.  And then where will the family of quails and the hare who sits on our chemin rural taunting Bertie hide from the guns that start in earnest next weekend?

We talk about going to our favourite crêperie this evening, to sit outside in the courtyard in the fading light - a rare treat this year. There won't be many more occasions between now and the end of September when she closes til next April.

In August, when friends stayed, we supped indoors, had soup, turned on the underfloor heating and worried that their summer-weight duvets were not warm enough.  They left as the warm weather that vanished at the end of June coyly returned.

I have forgotten what it means to have to water the pots along the veranda every evening.

We regret our friends did not come in September.  And then the muck spreader starts work in the neighbouring fields.  And we think, lovely though the weather is, perhaps it was as well they didn't come this week!

Promise of soup for the autumn

Saturday, 9 August 2014


Looking at the météo for today, there was this banner ad: "Ras-le-bol fiscal?" over a man with his head in his hands.  I sort of knew what it had to mean, but hadn't come across the phrase ras-le-bol.  So I looked it up.

Oh how appropriate!  My dictionary tells me "(Colloquial) To be really fed up with. To be heartily sick of. Gloominess. Despondency. Dolefulness."

Yep, that just about sums up how we're all feeling about this year's summer in this part of glorious south west France.

Somehow the UK seems to be having our summer and we've got theirs.  Friends talk delightedly on Skype about swimming in the sea (in the UK!) and not minding the occasional dull day, because the summer has been so lovely and warm and sunny.

When I was house hunting here I met an English estate agent who said she so enjoyed the certainty of the long hot summers.  Not any more! At least those of us who live here all the time can fondly remember June. This year is tough for those who are just down for the holidays.

As I walked through the market this morning and the heavens opened yet again, a stall-holder muttered "putain" as she hauled an already damp plastic sheet back over her sodden fruit and vegetables.

This evening we are going to a concert in a chateau - in the garden if fine, in the entrance hall if wet - hence my check on the météo.  Looks like we'll be in the hall.

Friends arrive from the UK in ten days.  It'll be nice for them to have a cooler week here, after all that good weather at home. They may, however, just have to put up with a general slightly damp air of doleful "ras-le-bol" among the locals.

Sunrise before yesterday's storms