Sunday, 29 May 2016

On Reflection

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.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Time ...

... for a cup of tea and to finish the latest online jigsaw.

A Windy Day by Gary Bunt seems particularly appropriate.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The yellow butterfly ...

... flutters, then settles on the one mauve flower of the aubrietia I've just planted and raises its wings in the sunlight to display a translucent pale green underside and a single brown dot.

It's mild and dry. Too mild and worryingly dry, according to Monsieur F who pauses from spreading fertiliser pellets in the field below the cottage garden and climbs down off his tractor for a chat.  He contrasts our situation with the flooding in Cumbria and we shake our heads over what they are suffering in the UK and also the state of the reservoirs along our valley (in eight years we've never seen them so low) and what this will mean for crops next summer if we have no winter rain.

We wish each other "bonne continuation" - he to his tractor, me to my fork and pickaxe as I return to the seemingly never-ending task of removing builder's rubble, ever deeper and ever larger, from the cottage flower beds. If this coming year is to be dry the plants will need all the help they can get to extend their roots to find moist soil.

I'm hoping the buddleia that died back during this year's drought will revive and be covered in butterflies next summer.  

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Autumn Colours

The cranes have been moving south since September (much too early!) and we've been dithering about moving back to "winter quarters".  Then a few days of damp cold and a sulky wood burner in the lounge that refused to heat beyond the sofa persuaded us it was time to carry our clothes, food and computers from the house down the track to the cottage.

At which point the weather promptly warmed up again!  So, over the last few days, we have been basking in sunshine that has turned the garden gold and scarlet.  The promise of heavy rain and thunderstorms, however, has had me out with the camera attempting to capture this glorious show before it finally disappears.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Watermelon Salad goes Viral

The owner of Guccio (late-lamented, much loved Spinone) likes to help prepare meals when he comes to stay and this year was no exception. So while Tod was having an osteo session one hot day I watched a watermelon salad being prepared for lunch for the three of us.

Tod was late, so we sat on the veranda and started without him. We chatted and ate and ate and chatted and then realised we'd eaten virtually all of the salad.  I was eyeing the nearly empty bowl when Tod came back to sample the two final mouthfuls, somewhat peeved to discover what he'd been missing.

Through this parched summer it's become our firm favourite - even usurping Hugh's delicious endive and pear salad.

The other day, we served The Salad as a starter for a lunch with friends to much acclaim and requests for the recipe. It has already gone on to other shared meals to general approval.

I had hoped to show a picture here, but overnight watermelons have disappeared and butternut squashes have arrived. Summer is definitely over.

Nevertheless, I will share the recipe while I remember it ....

Watermelon, Red Onion, Feta and Basil Salad

The ratio of red onion to watermelon is roughly one onion to half a good sized melon.


-  Half a large watermelon roughly chopped into small chunks (Lidl’s seedless melons make life easy, if not available, deseed the melon as best you can, but it's not a major problem if some seeds are left in)

-  One very thinly sliced red onion (leave the red translucent slices in their fine crescent shapes, they add impact to the salad)

-  A good big handful of basil leaves roughly chopped plus a few chopped mint leaves mixed in (not many, just there for a hint)

-  A pack (180-200gms) of feta cheese roughly cubed

- Two table-spoons of pumpkin seeds which have been lightly dry cooked in a frying pan for a few minutes til they begin to pop (they add a nice crunch to the salad and are useful if you can't get seedless melons as they disguise any residual melon seeds)

-  Good sprinkling of salt

-  Lots of black pepper

-  Balsamic velours drizzled over everything

-  Balsamic vinegar generously sloshed round

Mix all the ingredients very thoroughly together in a large bowl and enjoy.  

This should make enough for four for a starter or two to three for a light lunch.  But beware, it is VERY moreish and any later-comers to the table may find there is none left.

I fully expect to be invited to at least one lunch party next summer where this salad is served.  Indeed, it is so good, I believe it has already gone viral across the whole of the Lot & Garonne

Monday, 24 August 2015

Risque d'Orage

Yet again the météo tells us that overnight there is a "risque d'orage" (chance of thunder storms) and even grêle (hail).

As I stroll with the dogs in the semi-dark I can see the flicker of lightning along the western horizon - too far away to hear any thunder. Vita walks unconcerned - nose down in the long grass at the verge of the narrow road.  If she looks skywards it's not in apprehension, but merely snuffing at the sharp wind blowing across the top of the maize.

Just in case, the Batmobile (with its vulnerable soft top) has been moved in under the roof of the wood store.

In hope more than expectation I have trailed the hose pipes across the garden yet again, down to the nearly empty water tank by the cottage. The pipes will carry any rain from the great sloping roof of the house - a roof which carries so much water in a downpour that the water butts are full and overflowing in minutes.  How much better to have that precious overflowing flood caught and conserved in the tank.

But I doubt it will be.  All evening I've been following on the internet thunderstorms up through northern Spain where, blocked by the Pyrenees, they turn west.  The small white points of each lightning strike crackle continuously through my computer's speakers.  I watched the first band of storms head out across the Bay of Biscay and I fear that the next will do the same, perhaps touching Bordeaux but not coming this far inland.

I wake at 2am - fooled by the sound of the wind rattling the bone-dry, bleached maize, thinking I am hearing pouring rain.  I stand on the lawn in the dark, my bare feet pricked by coarse toughened grass stalks.  Bertie whimpers at the door to be let out to join me, but I tell him there's no point and we go back to bed.

At 4am, Vita stands in the kitchen barking, making more noise than the distant thunder which has disturbed her.  One crash comes closer and this time the hissing noise is rain. It is over in ten minutes. And Vita returns contentedly to bed.

In ten weeks we have had no more than two day's rain.  The grass the following morning is barely damp.


Lightning strikes in real time

Sunday, 12 July 2015

On Being a Susan

Tod asks me why so many of my generation are called Susan.  There were five Susans in my class.

I don't know.  And it's too late to ask my parents.

If I'd been an Elizabeth it would have been obvious why.

So I google famous Susans and find that many - Susan Hampshire, Susan Sarandon, Susan Sontag - are roughly my contemporaries. Their parents responding to the same zeitgeist no doubt.

So, Susan Hayward perhaps? Looking unbelievably glamorous and at the height of her career the year I was born.  Google tells me "By the late 1940s, the quality of her film roles had improved, and she achieved recognition for her dramatic abilities with the first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her performance as an alcoholic in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947)" I wonder if they'd seen the film beforehand whether my parents would still have chosen her name?

And I wonder if my parents realised what they were giving me along with my name?  Susan is the sensible one. The older sister. The one who looks after the others and makes sure they have their scarves and have had breakfast.  She's there in the Narnia books (until she becomes too grown-up and sensible to take part). She's the same in Swallows and Amazons.  I never identified with the Susan in these stories.  I wanted to be a Lucy, or a Nancy, or a Jo from Little Women. The one who was always being naughty or rebellious and getting into trouble.

So I tried to cast off my sensible mantle and became a "Sue". And from then on the only person who called me "SUSAN" in a certain tone of voice was my mother.

But here, in France, "Sue" does not work well.  The sound is too short, too abrupt.  The combination of letters does not suit the French tongue and (I suspect) is not pleasing to the French ear. So I have rediscovered my full name. But now it has quite another quality.

Asked my name, I say "Susan", but what is written down and what is said back to me in French is "Suzanne", the voice lingering on the final syllable with even a hint of an "a" on the end. Oh, how much more exotic and exciting and mysterious.

Leonard Cohen's Suzanne would never have been described as "sensible".

Narnia books - C S Lewis
Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

Saturday, 4 July 2015

It's so hot ....

... we leave the swimming pool cover off at night in the hope that the water will cool;

... I'm grateful for the sweat from my hair line running down the side of my face and drying on my cheeks as I walk the dogs late at night past Philippe's now-harvested barley field;

... the water butts and underground tank are empty.  I'm reluctantly using tap water and the météo promises at least another two weeks of high temperatures.  At this rate it would be cheaper to let the veg garden dessicate and buy what we need from Lidl's;

... gardening is squeezed into the few hours before eleven in the morning;

... by mid-day the hydrangeas are wilting, no matter how much water I give them;

... I scan the skies for signs of thunder clouds building in the hope that they will break over us and not slip away north to the Dordogne;

... the citronella candles are recovering in the fridge.  Left unlit on the table outside the cottage, they gently melted in the noonday sun over the new "Paris grey and red to match the parasols" plastic tablecloth;

... in the crêperie tonight Giselle air-kisses from the other side of the courtyard, exclaiming it's too humid for physical contact.  We have gone there to celebrate. Tomorrow is the start of our ninth year in France.